The revamped Detroit bookmobile is bringing the li...

The revamped Detroit bookmobile is bringing the library to residents, computers and all

When you visit the Mobile Library, you'll be able to buy your groceries and check out a book in one trip

Children in an undated historic black and white photo exitt he Detroit Public Library Bookmobile.

The Detroit Public Library last week announced the retooling of its bookmobile, modernizing it to match the expanded services of their branches while building on a beloved, 79-year-old program.

Now called the Mobile Library, the trailer will roll around Detroit and Highland Park to neighborhood stops starting in January. It’s got books, of course, but also DVDs, other AV items, computers and wifi. This latest plan comes on the heels of other library efforts to expand access to Detroiters, including ending late fees in September and expanding the Wash and Learn programming at laundromats.

The outreach services are critical in spread-out Detroit, where transportation is a major challenge for low-income residents, and one in four households don’t have any internet access

Two days a week, the Mobile Library will continue its visits to schools, including ones that have lost full-service libraries due to budget cuts. For some kids, it’s their first exposure to the public library, and schools are allowed to keep rotating collections of 25 books on loan. 

The bookmobile currently works with about 50 schools and serves 12,000 kids each year, including through popping up at citywide festivals. During the summer months, you can actually request the Mobile Library’s attendance at your own community event — start planning now. 

What’s new, however, is the schedule of community stops on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays starting in 2020, with recurring monthly visits to grocery stores, recreation centers, Secretary of State offices and other neighborhood hubs across the city. (See the full schedule here.) The stops were chosen with an eye for places that aren’t close to a regular library branch. 

Bookmobile passing the intersection of Five Mile Road (Fenkell) and Wyoming, 1949. // Detroit Public Library’s “Read-A-Rama No. 2” bookmobile at Hart Plaza, 1991. Both photos courtesy Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library

Besides checking out materials, the Mobile Library lets you apply for a library card on the spot, and they’ll host workshops ranging from basic computer skills to helping people fill out their U.S. Census forms. You can request a book by phone or online and send it on the Mobile Library, then pick it up once when it gets to your local stop. 

The trailer also has a video game system and outdoor projector, with plans to host gaming competitions and karaoke jam sessions, said Regina Smith, coordinator for specialized services at the Douglass Branch. “Karaoke” and “library” might seem like an odd crossover, but Smith said that kind of outreach is critical to further the library’s mission

“When I was a kid it was the programming that brought us into the library,” she told Detour, “and it was the books that kept us in the libraries.”

DPL also offers drop-off materials and on-call bookmobile service for seniors and others who are homebound. (Need your library books delivered? Contact the Douglass Branch for Specialized Services at 313-481-1706 or email douglass@detroitpubliclibrary.org.) 

Staff looking out from the rear windows of the bookmobile, date unknown. Courtesy Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library

The original bookmobile first got on the road in February of 1940, operating out of the former Utley branch at Woodward and Alger. It’s been upgraded a few times in the last eight decades, DPL spokeswoman Kathryn Dowgiewicz said in an email. 

“Adult customers, even those attending events but no longer residing in Detroit or Highland Park, frequently share their childhood memories of the ‘bookmobile.’ They stress how that experience led to a lifelong love of libraries and reading,” Dowgiewicz said. “Library staff hope that present day bookmobile outreach service is building those same memories for today’s youth.”

You can check out the new Mobile Library before it starts its regular roll at one of the launch events: Dec. 1 at the Redford branch, Dec. 7 at Woodward and Kirby during Noel Night, Dec. 8 at the Main branch and Dec. 15 at the Wilder branch. They’ll host activities including storytelling, a Santa visit and crafting.

Top photo: Several teenagers holding books exit from the Detroit Public Library bookmobile, “The Book Express No. 1,” date unknown. Courtesy Burton Historical Collection at the Detroit Public Library

Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl