Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Branches on Wheels: Innovations in Public Library Mobile Services

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Branches on Wheels: Innovations in Public Library Mobile Services

Article excerpt

Mobile libraries remain a critical mode of library service to rural and remote people in countries such as Australia and New Zealand. During the last decade they have been transformed, largely though the effective use of technology and good design, from basic bookmobiles to more easily accessible 'branches on wheels'. They provide greater equality to rural adults and children through a much higher level of 'service delivery, special spaces, and access to resources. A valid comparison is the difference between the traditional family caravan and the contemporary mobile home. Australian mobile library innovations are described. Edited version of a paper presented at 'Places and spaces: public libraries for the 21st century in Australia and New Zealand' Adelaide South Australia 31 March-l April 2006


Mobile libraries have for many years played a critical role in the service provision matrix of public libraries across Australia. Mobiles, as they are commonly called, bring library services to city and rural people alike. However it is a reasonable assumption that their major impact is on residents of the many rural and remote communities in Australia who have no easy access to static libraries.

When we think of mobile libraries, some of us could cast our minds back to the bookmobile that rattled down a dusty country road each fortnight to be greeted by appreciative borrowers who were provided with a limited--yet most welcome--choice of equally dusty books by the friendly and long suffering mobile library operator. There was not much room in those mobiles. They were hot in summer and cold in winter.

This paper presents examples of best practice mobile library developments which play a vital role in bringing equity of access to the people of many regional and rural areas in Australia. Mobile libraries truly have undergone a metamorphosis, from simple bookmobiles to branches on wheels.

Physical infrastructure: the rigs

Mobile libraries have thus evolved from relatively spartan and utilitarian work horses to comfortable, accessible and welcoming community spaces. By way of example, the evolution of the Riverina Regional Library (RRL) and Upper Murray Regional Library (UMRL) mobile vehicles tell the story.

Riverina Regional Library

Riverina's original mobile library was commissioned in 1979 and was, at that stage, a giant amongst mobile libraries. It consisted of an International Acco prime mover and a Brimarco built trailer which, in combination, constituted the longest legal length for a rig of that configuration. The mobile library carried a collection of some 11,000 items and included an extendable office capsule, air conditioning, and a reasonable amount of space to facilitate borrower browsing and to accommodate hoards of school students when class visits were made.

The trailer outlasted the prime mover, which was replaced with a Mitsubishi truck in 1991. The trailer soldiered on until 2002, when it was replaced with a new branch on wheels--an amazing construction by SVM (Special Vehicle Manufacturers) in Brisbane. Rod Clarke, the mobile library operator, did not know which way to look when his dream of a real truck--a MACK--also came true! The project, a mobile library / telecentre strategy costing about $400,000, was funded by a NSW Library Council library development grant to the amount of $150,000 with the remainder being met from mobile library reserve funds that were established and incrementally increased over the previous 10 years as part of the regional library's infrastructure replacement strategy. It is worth mentioning at this juncture the great importance of long term financial planning strategies to facilitate the seamless replacement of major library infrastructure. Without this strategy in place, RRL would have had great difficulty in producing its $250,000 share of the replacement cost. RRL's coordinator information technology services, Brian Hummer, has an excellent presentation on the detailed process involved in replacing the mobile library, and he kindly agreed to allow access to his work for this conference presentation. …

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