Dec 30, 2023

The Public Library: Oasis, Sanctuary and a Treasure Trove of Books

The Public Library: Oasis, Sanctuary and a Treasure Trove of Books
AI-generated art by Open AI. Prompt: A full-color bookmobile in the style of Robert Crumb.

A public library is a community resource, of course, but, for some, it is even more; it’s a refuge, a second home. My lifelong love affair with books began with my local library. 

Whether you seek a quiet place to do homework, need some reference or research assistance, want to curl up in a chair with a new title, or just need a comfortable place to be, you can count on it to be there for you.  

Beyond that, a library is so much more than just a place with books. It offers classes for learning skills and crafts, provides museum passes and access to the “Library of Things” such as snowshoes, video games, musical instruments. It provides meeting spaces for Literacy Volunteers to work with their students so that they can read.  

Libraries that offer the services of a bookmobile are very special; indeed, they are often cherished in their communities.

Roving libraries, books-on-wheels libraries, or bookmobiles have been essential for readers because “when there is no library around, the books could come to you.” This quote comes from a New York Times Book Review essay “Books on Wheels,” that reveals how traveling libraries affected the lives of those who were its beneficiaries: 

  • To Margaret Atwood, for example, the bookmobile “was the whole world parked on my gravel road.”  
  • James Lee Burke reported that “the arrival of the bookmobile on our dead-end street sent kids running down to the cul-de-sac to be the first in line for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.”   
  • Joe Queenan had a similar experience: “I lived in a neighborhood with no library. Luckily, there was a bookmobile that came around every week. Each Tuesday night I would borrow as many books as permitted, devour them and come back next week for more.” 

It’s hardly surprising, to me, that these readers became writers. 

My local library, The Joint Free Public Library of Morristown and Morris Township, where library services have been available since 1792, supports the cause. Its bookmobile visits schools that have no libraries as well as day care centers, pre-schools, after-school programs, and summer camps. It also stocks several “little free libraries” around town that were built by a group of Girl Scouts for readers to gain access to books during the pandemic; they remain active, and more are planned. 

Leila Uhl, who initially ran the bookmobile program, made her visits between 9 and 5, from Monday through Thursday. The locations blessed with those visits included a Charter School in Morris Township — it does not have its own library — and Neighborhood House in Morristown — that serves our growing immigrant population — as well as two locations that offer after school programs. Leila is bilingual (Spanish/ English) and works with children at schools who are also bilingual, (or know Spanish only). In fact, she added a stop at the kids' request to help the growing interest among Latino children who wanted books.  

Justina Addice now runs the bookmobile program and has been responsible along with library leadership in expanding the program this year into additional preschools that meet at some new locations.  

During the summer, the bookmobile visits camp programs at area parks, summer school programs and both of the community’s pools (in addition to some day care centers that continue into the summer). Because adults and young adults are also at the pools and camps, Justina carries a few titles for those age groups as well.   

And so our town and township’s traveling library, our bookmobile, carries on a tradition: bringing books to brighten lives, lift spirits, widen horizons, prompt dreams, help imagine futures, offer hope and comfort, motivate, astound, inform, relay history, promote civility, provide instruction, answer questions and raise others, and, of course, entertain.  

As libraries across the land provide access to books for all who seek them, bookmobiles provide them wherever the seekers may be.

Linda Stamato is a co-founder of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution and is a Policy Fellow at the New Jersey State Policy Lab at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University. She serves on her local library foundation board and on the board of the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media.

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