Digital Bookmobile Comes To Missouri

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LEE'S SUMMIT - An 18-wheel tractor-trailer sat in the parking lot of Colbern Road Branch Mid-Continent Pubic Library. This was not the typical bookmobile. In fact you couldn't find a single piece of paper inside the entire vehicle.

Instead this digital bookmobile of the future was fully equipped with e-readers, eBooks, audio books, music and videos. The truck, powered by a company called OverDrive (a distributor of eBooks, audiobooks, music, and video), is on an international road trip, making stops all across the United States and Canada. 

This truck made two pit-stops in Missouri (May 15 and May 16) at Mid-Continent Public Library branches. The director of Mid-Continent Pubic Libraries, Steven Potter, said that these events were all about education.

"This is an opportunity for people to learn about their devices and learn about the resources available to them and understand why it's OK to be coming from the library," Potter said. 

He also explained why none of the Mid-Continent Public Libraries have traditional bookmobiles. He says the 1970's brought about the first spike in gas prices and forced many libraries to get rid of bookmobiles. But now there's a more important reason why bookmobiles are not as popular, and that's because consumer's habits have changed dramatically.

"People want their information where they want it, how they want it and when they want it," said Potter. "So having a vehicle showing up at a parking lot for two hours every Wednesday just doesn't fit with the way people work anymore." 

Potter said that Mid-Continent started investing in it's eBook library approximately two and a half years ago with a budget of $50,000 dollars. Now the library system has an eBook budget over $850,000 dollars and has found that eBook lending is an extremely popular option for consumers. Potter said that the eBook 50 Shades of Grey has a wait list of over 400 people.

Though Potter says eBooks are the direction of the future, he does admit there is a distinct nostalgia felt with the traditional bookmobile. He admits bookmobiles can be successful in smaller communities. Three libraries in mid-Missouri, Daniel Boone Regional Libraries, Boonslick Regional Libraries and Missouri River Regional Libraries all have operating bookmobiles that make multiple stops throughout the school year and summer. 

He also says there is no doubt the digital change in the publishing industry is here to stay. 

"We are looking to provide content to provide people anytime they want as opposed to trying to coordinate with the bookmobile," Potter said.

Mid-Continent Public Library is also working with a local school to put together a bus similar to the digital bookmobile. This program will begin in the fall and will include a bus that will drive into high density communities. The vehicle will provide online content and educational opportunities for both parents and students about resources available to them through both the library and the school district.