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Bookin’ it

As a kid, I read anything I could get my hands on. I
devoured Reader’s Digest condensed books and Zane Grey westerns. I borrowed
Grandma’s copy of Gone with the Wind, although Mom said it was too adult for

Once a week, upper-elementary students at my school were
allowed to walk 2.5 blocks to the tiny brick library in Hornick, Iowa. It was
there that I checked out the entire Nancy Drew mystery series and many other

Recently, a young mom in my rural community mentioned that
her son had exhausted the contents of the two small-town libraries. She was
considering buying an e-reader to keep up with his reading appetite.

An e-reader is a great invention. But it’s not the first
vehicle designed to bring books to us. As a young reader, I looked forward to
the day when the bookmobile would roll into town, bringing a fresh supply of
reading material. I didn’t know that it began as a horse-drawn wagon in rural
Maryland in 1905; it was a brand-new experience to my classmates and me.

By the late 1960s, rural Americans were increasingly mobile,
and access to libraries improved. I spent summers during college working at the
Iowa Area Educational Resource Center, a new multimedia school resource center.

I don’t remember the last time I stepped inside a
bookmobile. As a new mother, I bought books for my daughters, and we made
weekly trips to the library. They read scores of school library books in the
Accelerated Reader program. Our home library favorites include the Boxcar
Children, Goosebumps, Madeleine L’Engle series, and Harry Potter.

My daughters never heard of a library on wheels. But
recently, I learned that bookmobiles still are driving home a love of reading.
Kentucky is the bookmobile capital of the U.S. with 84. California has 60,
followed by Ohio with 70. In Iowa, there are six. Oklahoma has four.

Bookmobiles are a major investment. Recent library cutbacks
and reduced funding have rerouted many bookmobiles to underserved urban
neighborhoods across the U.S., where they cater to senior citizens, child-care
centers, and the disabled.

Today’s bookmobiles offer DVDs and books on CD. Many are
wired for broadband. You can track your bookmobile’s schedule on Facebook.

At the same time that technology is delivering books to our
mobile devices, readers are being transported by books – literally. The
Oskaloosa, Iowa, Book Vault Read and Travel Book Club ( is
going to Minnesota on June 7-9 to visit the setting of the Betsy Tacy books. In
2011, they toured the Washington State home of the Twilight series.

If you think about it, literary tourism isn’t a novel trend.
I called it a family vacation. My older daughter’s love of the Little House on
the Prairie books led us to Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and northeast
Iowa. (We missed out on Kansas and Missouri.)

We went to Hannibal, Missouri, to see the inspiration for
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. We visited the Concord,
Massachusetts, home of Louisa May Alcott.

Most book clubs are place-bound, but a growing number today
are online, with Web-based discussions. Oprah’s revived Book Club 2.0 is
multiplatform, extending from her cable show to her magazine and website,
Facebook, and Twitter. After reading John Steinbeck’s East of Eden for the
first time, she said she missed having a discussion about it.

(Read “Tips for Starting and Running an Online Book Club” at

Is it a page-turner?

What is the future of books now that the Internet and
e-readers are adding a new dynamic to the mix?

The digital divide is shrinking. An increasing number of
libraries offer free downloads of books and preloaded e-readers. Not all books are in the public domain, but you can get a good

E-books are lightweight and easy to pack. Any reading device
that transports children to new and far-flung places and cultures, provides a
portal to the past, and opens young eyes to life’s infinite possibilities is a
welcome addition.

But in many parts of the country, parents cannot afford
e-readers or computers, and there’s no public library or broadband Internet.
Yet, these are the very places where access to books offers children a free
passport to cross invisible boundaries and to escape the constraints of
poverty, neglect, and abuse.

Books still are likely to have a shelf life. After all,
book-lovers need to underscore key passages and share their copies with
friends. Inside an antique secretary in my home is a treasure trove of books
that belonged to family members.

I love to open the covers and read the inscriptions. Rebecca
of Sunnybrook Farm has my mom’s name written inside. “From Charlene to Janice,
1923” is written inside the edition of Little Women that I first read.

Whatever became of my local bookmobile? My elementary school
disappeared years ago, but the tiny brick library survives. I just found out,
thanks to the Woodbury County Library, the bookmobile still stops there once a

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