Two local libraries are expanding their bookmobile services, revealing that interest in books is still strong even as people increase their screen time.

The Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library is seeking proposals to replace the Burleigh County Bookmobile, which serves 9,000 visitors each year, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

The 19-year-old vehicle has 122,000 miles and is starting to have mechanical issues, said Christine Kujawa, director of the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Public Library.

A new bookmobile will allow the library to continue delivering materials to rural communities as well as offer wireless internet and more access to technology for patrons on board.

“We want to try to give our patrons the same opportunities that they would have if they came to the library here,” said Keli McDonald, head of bookmobile services for the Bismarck Veterans Memorial Library.

Meanwhile, the Morton Mandan Public Library plans to expand outreach services in the county with the help of a $30,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Trust. More than 10,600 people visited the Morton Mandan Bookmobile last year, which drove 8,658 miles to visit stops in Mandan, Glen Ullin, Hebron, Flasher and New Salem.

“Anybody who thinks that libraries are on their way out, just come with me for a month,” said Bel Neibel, driver for the Morton Mandan Bookmobile.

The Bismarck Library Foundation is expected to begin raising funds this spring for a new Burleigh County Bookmobile, Kujawa said.

Early estimates show a new bookmobile could cost $300,000 to $310,000, but the exact amount won’t be known until the library receives proposals in late March, according to Kujawa. The library has $193,000 set aside in a bookmobile savings replacement fund. Private fundraising will pay for the rest of the cost.

The library plans to purchase a 29-foot Freightliner Step Van that is customized. Library staff have been working for about a year on plans for the new bookmobile, with specifications such as a skylight, a public address system, adjustable shelving and staff work stations.

“You really are starting from scratch and, in the end, we’ll have a library on wheels,” Kujawa said. “There is a lot that goes into building that.”

One new feature will be a retractable screen that library staff can use to give tutorials about technology, such as accessing e-books and audiobooks online, McDonald said.

Depending on the level of fundraising, the new bookmobile will circulate more technology, such as mobile devices, laptops and other items requested by patrons, Kujawa said.

The Burleigh County Bookmobile travels about 7,000 miles a year to rural schools, assisted living facilities and other locations in the county. Library staff hope to have the new vehicle in 2020.

The Morton Mandan Bookmobile, nicknamed Morti, can haul about 4,000 books, DVDs, audio books, magazines and other items from the Morton Mandan Public Library and other libraries in the Central Dakota Library Network.

“I like the idea that we are servicing Morton County. Not everyone can get here to this beautiful building and this beautiful library,” Neibel said.

The grant the library recently received will expand programming for communities throughout the county, said Jackie Hawes, library director.

For example, the library is considering adding homebound services for people unable to visit one of the bookmobile stops, Hawes said. Library staff recently conducted surveys in communities to find out what other services are needed.

Other plans for the grant include purchasing a public address system to let people know the bookmobile is open and a cart to allow librarians to take books into senior centers, Hawes said.

The grant also will allow the library to expand its services as a passport acceptance center to the rest of the county, so people can apply for a passport or get renewal forms from the bookmobile.

The library also plans to do more marketing and outreach, such as hosting pop-up libraries during town festivals.

The Morton Mandan Bookmobile makes 37 stops each month to schools, after-school programs, towns, subdivisions, nursing homes, retirement homes and other facilities, said Mary Henderson, outreach services coordinator.

Neibel recently worked an 11-hour day that began with shoveling snow and included driving to Glen Ullin to read at a day care center, visit a school and a nursing home and stop in downtown.

“Bel better not be more than five minutes late for any stops, or we get phone calls,” Henderson said.


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