The Santa Clara County Library, which employs several hundred full-time staff members and has an annual of $33 million, serves more than 400,000 residents. Although over half of them are cardholders, many are unable to visit any of the seven library locations.
For those elderly, disabled, hospitalized or geographically restricted members of the community, there is the Bookmobile.
"It's hard to describe [how it feels] when you drive up and see all these people waiting for you," says Karen Apland, who has been lead librarian for the book-bearing service vehicle for five years. "People—so many people—tell us, 'Thank you for coming here!'"
The Bookmobile parks every evening behind SCC Library Headquarters at 14600 Winchester Blvd. in Los Gatos, along with its smaller and nimbler counterpart used only for winding roads—such as those leading to surrounding unincorporated areas.
In Cupertino, the Bookmobile visits the Forum at Rancho San Antonio, an assisted-living retirement community; Sunny View Manor Nursing Home; and , an independent retirement residence. Scheduled stops are normally 30 to 60 minutes, during which time patrons can board the bookmobile and browse.
Also served are places like Chandler Tripp in , which educates visually impaired children, and Scribbles and Giggles in Saratoga, a day care center for with special or medical needs, many of whom need significant assistance.
"Sometimes we put two books in front of them and then see if they can point to the one that they want," says Bobbie Gomez, an administrative assistant at Scribbles and Giggles. "The kids really look forward to it."
These two facilities, in particular, are among Apland's favorite to visit. She describes how the Bookmobile is not just a means for "fun reading" but also an opportunity for little ones to practice interaction in the real world.
Around Halloween, for example, Chandler Tripp kids are sometimes encouraged to line up and approach Apland individually, saying "Trick or treat!" Another time, it was "Happy holidays!" Even small exchanges like these, explains Apland, can be intimidating for them—but she's happy to help.
The Bookmobile has also made appearances at local fairs, Fourth of July and many locations around Santa Clara County, including migrant camps in Gilroy, military housing at Moffett Field and Mount Hamilton. For the migrant community, there simply isn't enough space aboard the Bookmobile to accomodate everyone—so she brings the carts of books inside the community room.
Commuting from Gilroy, Apland's workday can sometimes surpass 10 hours. Mornings require 45 minutes of prep time, in which the staff fit new material into the shelves' gaps from the previous day, double-check individual requests, clean and load up the equipment.
"It makes for a long day," she says, "but we have a lot of fun."
The Bookmobile carries a variety of material, from large-print, braille and audio books, to more popular series, such as romance and—at the moment—the Percy Jackson series. New material is ordered constantly. "We want to keep current," says Apland.
Although some have recently been remodeled and now host numerous new progams, the affluence of a neighborhood does not necessarily reflect the demand for Bookmobile visits.
Libraries, explains Apland, are meant to serve the communities' needs. "If you can't get there, for you it's not serving your needs ... so we serve people who can't [get there]."
One can also find a variety of different languages aboard, including Cantonese, Korean, Japanese and Hindi. Particularly for Cupertino and Saratoga, full carts of Asian literature are kept at library headquarters and, on applicable days, rolled up the ramp onto the Bookmobile.
The ramp is imperative for communities with patrons who not only cannot drive to the themselves but need a walker to board the vehicle (which itself can be lowered).
"A majority of [residents here] can't drive," says Joan Show, a receptionist at the Corinthian House in Campbell. She personally announces the arrival of the Bookmobile every other Friday. "The [Bookmobile] staff are very friendly and helpful," she says. "People don't always know what to pick out."
Says Apland on the retirement communities visited, "We know how much it means to people who can't get to the library any other way."
Similar to its role with special schools and youth hospitals, the Bookmobile often serves simply as a familiar face to elderly people for whom social interaction is limited.
"[Residents] were asking about it this morning, actually," says Sandi Ryan, program manager of the Forum at Rancho San Antonio.
"We listen," says Apland. "Sometimes people just need someone to talk to ... so they're not so isolated. Many are going through tough times."
The personal requirements are much different, she explains, than those of her former position as Teen Services librarian in Gilroy. "You have to like people, or it can be a bit overwhelming," she says. "There's no desk between you."
A people-oriented attitude is something she admits the handful of Bookmobile staff—of whom all except her are part-time—consciously maintains. "We like being out on the road, [engaging in] one-on-one contact." They drive the vehicle themselves and were given professional training to do so.
Apland is an avid reader of nonfiction, especially mysteries, courtroom dramas and history; she recently finished a biography of George Washington. She is part of a book club and often listens to audio books in the car.
Even nurses, caregivers and teachers on the Bookmobile route take advantage of the visits.
"Our staff participates [too]," says Arlene Follen, a secretary at Foothill Adventist School in Milpitas. "Teachers get books for their classrooms."
"It's a fantastic service," says Susan Ady, an employee of Lakeside Elementary School in Los Gatos. "We all feel very blessed."
One can also sign up for a library card onboard the Bookmobile, and overdue fees are practically nonexistent, since the on-site window of time is so small.
"Any member of the public is welcome to come to any of our stops," says Apland.
"I remember the Bookmobile when I was a kid." She smiles. "We have very happy people waiting for us when we show up."