It was the end of my library odyssey two days ago and I was in ‘Mobile 2,’ a mobile library van, affectionately named ‘Tango’. You can see why …
What the Walsall Mobile Library team accomplish is nothing short of outstanding.
This service take what public libraries offer to a whole new level. On wheels.
Not only do they visit schools, sheltered accommodation, care homes and day centres but they offer a home library service to people who find it difficult to visit their local library, be it due to illness, a disability or their role as a carer.
This is truly a library for everyone.
I was invited to go for a drive aboard Mobile 2/Tango by the rather wonderful, unquestionably cool, G.X. Todd whose debut novel, ‘Defender’ will hit the shelves early next year. When she’s not writing brilliant dystopian fiction, Gemma drives one of the mobile library vans and I have to say, she really does it with style.
As Gemma steered Mobile 2 onto the road and squeezed its tangerine body in between what looked like a far too narrow space between the pavement and the car next to us, I knew I’d found another library hero.
As we drive along, she points out to me the schools they visit.
The day care centres.
The spot behind the care home which is always a bit hairy to pull into.
Back at the base, Gemma shows me the stacks and how they are organised. It’s book-geek heaven and, as you can see from my face, I was getting rather giddy from it all.
I was fascinated to learn that every authority across the country is responsible for a certain section of adult fiction. For Walsall it’s the authors with the surnames beginning MOP to MOR. They’re kept in their Fiction Reserve section and are available for Inter Library Loans.
I loved hearing about how they still have borrowers who request audio books on cassettes and so they still maintain a good stock of them.
And I adored looking at the old book covers for the Large Print titles that, again, are very much in demand, as well as hearing about how they organise the stock through a little grid on the inside of the book cover and so it is rotated across each mobile van.
But putting my bookish excitement aside for a moment, more than anything, I was completely moved …
By the neat piles of books, labelled and waiting, ready for the home library service to deliver to its house-bound borrowers. (Gemma told me in some cases, the mobile librarians were the people that the home borrowers saw more than anyone else. The librarians get to know what their tastes are and so they can cherry pick titles that they know they will enjoy.)
By hearing about the classes of school children who would scamper onto the bus excitedly, loving every moment of it. I could imagine how much they would adore this space, it was spacious yet cosy. Exciting yet safe. It was on wheels!
By the story of a borrower who would visit the mobile library every week, armed with a sports bag, who always requested twenty historical Mills & Boon titles. (It was a challenge amongst the staff to try and source this many books of this type each time.) She had not been seen for a while and then the librarians had been told that she had passed away. And when she had been found, she was sitting in her armchair, one of her library books still in her hand.
It was thirtieth library I’d visited in so many days and it had taken me this long to realise: libraries make you feel you are never truly alone.