The life of a mobile librarian

29 January 2015

The slogan on the side of our van reads ‘Feed the Mind, Free the Imagination’. I’ve always loved that. In other words, it means this van is a time machine. It’s a vehicle that travels to other worlds. Step on board and we can take you anywhere and everywhere you want to go! Magic happens on the mobile library.

I know all my borrowers. I know their names, what they like to read, many times I know what’s going on in their lives. From 3-year-old Thomas who stands at the corner with his mum and refuses to budge until the library van has turned the last corner and is out of sight, to Mrs B, an octogenarian who waits at the end of her path for us to escort her across the street, carry her books, and help her onto the lift so she can choose some more. There are no age limits on the mobile library. There are no limits at all — I told you it was magic.

Some people look at us and think ‘Boy, that must be an expensive service’, but to Mr L, who’s recently lost his wife of 40 years, who we greet every week with a smile and a chat, that sentence means little. Or the hundreds of old folk and housebound people we visit in their homes every month because they’re unable to get out. We take them their books, sure, but we also make them cups of tea, put their bins out, pop letters in the post. All things I’ve done, countless times. Others, some involving naked old people on toilets, can be a story for another time.

Too often we are seen in terms of statistics (‘Visitor figures have fallen! This costs x amount of money to run! Cut cut, slash slash!’), but knowledge cannot be calculated, kindness cannot be measured in percentages, and touching someone’s life when times are hard cannot be given a value, because these are all things that are uncountable. I love my job, and not just because I get to spend my days talking about books and life and everything in between. I love it because we make a difference.

I’m the mobile library lady who drives the bus (yes, I do get double-takes), who squeezes the 35ft long vehicle down tiny backstreets to get to your street. I read stories to nursery children. I carry crates full of books up three flights of stairs to little old ladies who live at the top. I read blurbs aloud to the blind and give babies their first ever book. I’m here to help in any way I can.

Maybe librarians are a bit magic, too.

Gemma Todd has worked for public libraries for twelve years, and six of those have been at the Mobile Library Service. She works as a full-time Library Assistant/Driver in the West Midlands. The photograph shows Gemma Todd reading Mobile Library by David Whitehouse in a mobile library.

>>Read the first chapter of David's novel here