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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 me.

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 books.

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 start.

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 month. 

Book recommendations

When I was a Child, I read books by Marilynne Robinson

The best advice I ever got by Katie Couric

Love has wings by Isha Judd

iDisorder by Dr. Larry Rosen

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