Kent County OKs purchase of new $144,000 bookmobile


DOVER — Kent Levy Court commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $144,530 bid to replace the county’s ailing bookmobile.

Recently, Kent’s mobile library service has been in decline both because its vehicle, nicknamed Lucy, has had a rash of mechanical problems and its longtime operator, Frances Gunning, retired.

The most serious of its mechanical issues — the failure of an onboard generator — would have cost $15,000 to fix, said Kent County community services director Jeremy Sheppard. County staff thought making further investments in the old vehicle would ultimately go to waste though, considering its advanced age.

The 2004 diesel engine Ford E-450 was originally purchased in 2004 with the help of a monetary gift left by two sibling patrons from Hartly, Lucy and Walter Urban, after they died. The bookmobile was later nicknamed Lucy in honor of the donation.

The county received three bids. The decided on the lowest cost option provided by Matthews Specialty Vehicles of Greensboro, NC.

While a significant portion of the cost is for the sprinter-style van itself, the balance of the cost is for the extensive modifications that must be made to it so it can operate as a mobile library.

Kent County library director Hilary Welliver informed commissioners that the new design was “progressive” in several important ways including that it would have mobile “hotspot” WiFi capability, two on board laptops connected to the Internet and a wireless printer for customers’ use.

However, the contractor noted it may take up to eight months to deliver the vehicle. Mr. Sheppard expects to have it servicing county’s residents by 2019.

In the meantime, several small modifications have been made to Lucy to limb her along for several more months until she’s replaced. Mr. Sheppard noted that the county will likely sell the vehicle once the new bookmobile starts service.

According to library staff, demand for bookmobile service is still high. As a testament to its popularity, its fans have spoken out during Lucy’s recent suspension, said Ms. Welliver.

“The fact that’s we’ve been running below our normal capacity for the past few months hasn’t gone unnoticed,” she said. “Our customers have let it be known that they’re looking forward to getting a new vehicle and regular service again.”

Lucy’s routes include the Veterans Home, senior housing communities, daycare centers and charter schools. During her tenure, Ms. Gunning told this paper that she made about three 45-minute stops per day, averaging about 10 patrons per stop (more at schools).

“It’s hard for lots of people to get to a library for one reason or another,” said Ms. Welliver. “We go to the Veterans Home on a weekly basis, and even when the Caesar Rodney school district was going through renovations at their library, we went out there a few times per week to make sure students still had access to books.”

Delaware has two official bookmobile programs, the other is operated by Sussex County.

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