A Day in the Life of a Bookmobile Librarian

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Northeastern Nevada Regional Bookmobile Librarian, Elko County Library, Baker, Nevada, 2000, photo Robert Dawson

Kelvin K. Selders is the librarian for the Northeastern Nevada Regional Bookmobile. His story appears in the book The Public Library: A Photographic Essay, which features essays by Amy Tan, Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Ann Patchett, and others, alongside author Robert Dawson’s photographs of libraries — from the extravagant to the minute. In the following piece, Kelvin Selders gives us a look into his typical work day.

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Northeastern Nevada Regional Bookmobile, Elko County Library, Baker, Nevada, 2000, photo Robert Dawson

I am the librarian for the Northeastern Nevada Regional Bookmobile. You could say that I’m the driver of a 2005 Kenworth filled with books, but the job requires more than driving.

Many of the places I stop at are very remote. “Remote” in Nevada means hours away from a town big enough to have a library. When the stop is closer to a town or a school library, we offer convenience to our patrons. It is much easier to bring a class of students to a library when it is parked beside the school. We also offer books and information on request.

The most essential aspect of my work is getting the books into young hands. The younger they start, the better. Children need to be exposed to print and books in many different capacities before they enter school. Most children can load a VCR tape or DVD and push “play” on the remote before they know “a is for apple.” You will never get a diploma watching videos. You need to obtain reading skills to maximize your education.

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Richard F. Boi Memorial Library, First Little Free Library, Hudson, Wisconsin, 2012, photo Robert Dawson

Ruby Valley, Nevada, 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., every other Monday: It takes me an hour and twenty minutes to drive from Elko to the school at Ruby Valley. I cross the Ruby Mountains at Secret Pass. The road has many curves as it climbs through the pass. You can see a stream flowing far below, feeding the trees and shrubs.

The first patron I see at Ruby Valley is Ben Neff. He is a thirtysomething with special needs, and usually has about five watches on one arm. He collects uniforms and name tags and is usually wearing his latest one. Ben has a problem with stuttering, but he does one thing well: he can read! I park at the Neff Ranch in the summertime. A lot of the locals are related to the Neffs, so it’s like meeting at Grandma’s house. During the school year, I park at the school.

I often see patrons waiting for me when I get there, and when the steps are locked down and the generator is started, the schoolkids come out. Have you ever seen a child running to get a book? I have, and it makes me feel my job is worth more than the money I make. Parents with small children, even babies, come out at the same time as the schoolkids. In the six years I’ve been working at this job, I have watched some of the kids grow up, and now they have their own library cards and are students at the school. While I am there, the patrons usually visit with each other and discuss books they have read. The Ruby Valley stop is more of a “family community” stop.

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After Hurricane Sandy, Queens Library bookmobile, the Rockaways, Queens, New York, 2012, photo Robert Dawson

Montello, Nevada, 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., every other Monday: It takes me an hour and a half to drive from Ruby Valley to just outside of Montello. I stop for lunch in a remote location — so remote that there’s no radio signal, not even AM. I try to pull into the school at Montello five minutes early. There are patrons waiting.

When I started driving the bookmobile, this stop had three kids from the school, the teacher, and the lady next door. Now I have most of the adults in town, along with the schoolkids. Of all the places the bookmobile stops, Montello needs it the most. I can understand poverty — that’s the way I grew up, although Montello is a lot smaller and poorer than where I came from. The children have a playground at the school — a swing and a slide. The adults have a small store and a bar. I heard they finally got a cell tower up, so the better-off people can have a cell phone. If they have a computer, they get online through a dial-up connection. One patron with no power or water on the property hauls water and uses candles. This patron does have a portable CD/DVD player to watch movies and listen to books on CD, but can only use it in the pickup truck.

I noticed a problem on the bookmobile when I first started working. Some of the kids would leave without a book in their hands. This was happening because they did not have a library card and neither did their parents. It takes two weeks to get your library card, unless you go into the main library at Elko.

We started stocking paperbacks, which kids can check out without a library card. We have easy-to-read books for the smaller kids. Some are even chewable board books. We also have juvenile books for the older kids and adult paperbacks. Now no one has to leave the bookmobile without a book. That should be a librarian’s primary job: to get books in people’s hands.

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Truth or Consequences Public Library, Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, 2011, photo Robert Dawson

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The Public Library: A Photographic Essay by Robert Dawson is available from:

Barnes & Noble
Your local bookshop

Robert Dawson’s photographs have been recognized by a Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Dorothea Lange-Paul Taylor Prize. He is an instructor of photography at San Jose State University and Stanford University.

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