The town of Brusly has a captivating history, and the local bookmobile is no exception. A mobile library has impacted the town for more than 52 years through convenience, dedication and communal focus.
The history of the library bookmobile started when West Baton Rouge opened its first public library. It was the last parish in the state to open a public library, according to the parish’s Youth Services Librarian Judy Boyce. In 1933, the parish’s first library occupied the original third courthouse, and today serves as the parish’s museum.
“In the beginning when mothers were at home, there was a clientele for bookmobile home service,” Boyce said, so the first bookmobile was loaned to the West Baton Rouge Parish Library by the State Library of Louisiana until the library could purchase a bookmobile of their own in 1965.
“There’s quite a bit of history in a bookmobile,” she said before showing a picture of the first librarians that operated inside—two white women standing central with two black women on each side, all beaming in ‘50s-styled swing skirts.
The bookmobile, like most public services at the time, was segregated. It has a white team and African American team of librarians.
The Brusly Oak on Saint Francis Street was the first of many bookmobile stops. In 1972, the Sunday Advocate wrote of the 46 total stops made weekly. Today, it makes about three stops a week, scheduled as the following:
Tuesdays at Brusly Town Hall at 600 S. Vaughn Drive and Thursdays at the Las Palmas parking lot in the Oaks Shopping Center on Saint Francis Street are from 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. The neighborhood stops are on Tuesdays at different times and locations listed on the library’s website in the calendar.
The WBR Library’s late start didn’t hinder its progress, especially the bookmobile.
In 2002, the year the current bookmobile was received, an Advocate article included that in the year prior, “the bookmobile loaned 31,000 volumes to people in the community, making it the seventh most-active unit among the 30 bookmobiles statewide.” However, the bookmobile’s popularity has dropped off since the spring of technology and as many become engrossed in busy family life.
Used today is the parish’s fifth bookmobile. It’s larger, quieter and burns fuel cleaner than the previous vans. It’s wifi-enabled for easy laptop checkouts and library card set up. Those who do not want to make a trip to the library may request a book and pick it up at a bookmobile stop. Some Tuesday stops are pick-up only.
“We try to provide a little bit of everything just like you would find at the library and keep the collection here pretty current,” Boyce said about the bookmobile’s 3,000 book capacity. Book categories range from career to Spanish to large print books and reference collections. It also includes 45 different magazine titles. DVDs have proven to be popular with children and the elderly.
Compared to other parishes, the bookmobile is unusual in that it has reading levels labeled by color, including books appropriate for babies and toddlers, Boyce said.
“We used to take [the bookmobile] to schools, but it’s kind of confined so now we take collections into the schools on the students’ reading levels and spread out in cafeterias and hallways,” she said. Children at school stops may check out three books and have laminated cards similar to real library cards.
In addition to serving schools, the bookmobile does community stops and neighborhood stops with about 30 books picked up daily at the most, librarian Shary Weems said.
“It’s not as many as we would like,” she said.
Many residents who see the mobile library may not realize that the books are free, just like at the library, Weems said.
“Years ago, we went to the Council on Aging, and it dropped off so we’ve been trying to see if we can pick it up,” Boyce said who now believes it is one of the spots with the most activity, likely due to the fact that many of the elderly are less mobile.
Ivy Byrd, a 68-year-old new visitor of the West Baton Rouge Council on Aging, checked out movies from the bookmobile such as Chicago, the Notebook and A Dog’s Purpose. He usually goes to the library but said the bookmobile is a good resource to have.
“I’m glad [the bookmobile] came here because I don’t believe I would have gone to the library today,” Byrd said. “I appreciate [the bookmobile], and it’s necessary to have because a lot of people can’t really get to the library.”
The librarians usually visit inside the schools, but during construction at Brusly Elementary, they hosted storytime inside the bookmobile accommodated by padded seating.
“That’s what we could do to make sure that we could provide easy access for the students,” Boyce said, even when it meant visiting after school hours.
“Our goal is to serve people who don’t have easy access to us,” Boyce said, “and we hope to serve the people of West Baton Rouge through outreach programs.” Free tutoring is available at every library and during the summer, mothers told her of their appreciation of the community reach.
There have been people come up to tell Boyce about the greater impact the outreaches and access to books have had on school work achievement and pursuing higher education.
Librarians require physical endurance and stamina, especially in outreach programs. The books are divided up, packed up and unloaded so “our job is definitely physical compared to the main,” librarian Rain Mayeaux said, and addressed the misconceptions that librarians sit and read all day and that people don’t go to libraries anymore.
Boyce recalled an instance where there were 35 library cards set up at a stop—a sure sign that people are still interested in library services after witnessing the benefits a library provides and receiving help from people like her. “We want people to know we are there for them.”