Checking out: Clark County bookmobile ends service

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 
photoStephanie Paulson, who works with preschoolers from Country Friends Daycare, reads aloud in the bookmobile as it makes its final stop Friday morning in Hockinson.
photoStudents from Country Friends Daycare exit the bus after looking at books on the bookmobile, which made its final stop Friday morning in Hockinson.

HOCKINSON — There was a time when the Clark County bookmobile had more than 160 stops on its schedule.

That era is gone, and so is the Clark County bookmobile.

Beth Townsend parked the brightly painted Freightliner in front of Country Friends Daycare in Hockinson for the final time Friday morning.

“We love her,” one of the preschool teachers remarked as a group of children returned to their classroom with newly checked-out books.

Townsend has been hearing that a lot.

“People have said they will miss us,” said the senior library assistant, one of several people who shared Clark County’s seven bookmobile routes.

Ebie Mountford, owner of Country Friends Daycare, said that Townsend always happened to bring books that matched the center’s educational theme.

“We’re doing Australia, and she has books about Australia,” Mountford said. “Beth said she looked at our website to see what our theme was.”

The Hockinson stop along Northeast 159th Street was the first of two on the Clark County bookmobile’s last day of service. A final visit to Orchards Elementary in east Vancouver was on her afternoon schedule. Bookmobile use at Orchards has been very low, district officials said. At Hockinson, the preschool children and their teachers have been the main users of the bookmobile.

“We do get some families,” Townsend said, but not as many as they used to.

They’re reasons why the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District is ending Clark County bookmobile service after 71 years.

“What worked really well even 25 years ago doesn’t work now,” said Jill Rourke, Fort Vancouver’s community libraries director. “Sometimes we have to change what we’re doing.

“There are more two-income families,” leaving fewer parents at home to drive — or walk — their kids to the bookmobile, Rourke said.

With more people living out in the county and commuting to city jobs, the line between rural and suburban is blurring. And, the bookmobile no longer is a family’s key source for information and entertainment.

“We are one thing among many,” Townsend said. “So much is going on.”

By way of illustration, she noted a bookmobile route that did draw a lot of family participation: Yale Valley, in Cowlitz County. Her weekly stops at Yale School and the Cougar fire station were through a contract with the separate Yale Valley Library District.

“I see more family usage in Yale,” she said.

The Yale Valley route amounted to a 100-mile round trip that took Townsend north of Lake Merwin. Those families definitely qualified as rural, and they did look forward to bookmobile visits, she said. The bookmobile also drew some tourist traffic there, she added.

“People come by and ask how to get to Mount St. Helens,” said Townsend, who will move to a computer-based job in the district’s administrative center.

The Fort Vancouver Regional Library District will continue to operate the Skamania and Klickitat county bookmobiles.

Library officials have already announced the bookmobile replacement for one Clark County community. A month ago, they reached an agreement with Yacolt for an “express” facility. It is scheduled to open in September in the former Town Hall, 105 E. Yacolt Road.

The Yacolt Library Express will have a circulating collection of about 2,000 items. It will primarily be self-service, although it is scheduled to be staffed four hours a week.

The other Clark County bookmobile stops had been at Green Mountain School, Amboy Middle School and Yacolt Primary School in north county, as well as a low-income housing center in Vancouver Heights.

“Whether they are in rural or urban settings, there are populations that don’t have transportation,” Rourke said. “We are examining every area and looking at what are better options than a bookmobile.

“We want to carefully look at every situation. It takes time, and some thought,” Rourke said. “We don’t leap into the deep end of the pool in libraries.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.