Bookmobile Ready to Make Its Debut, Bring Watertown Library to the Public

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Watertown Library Community Outreach Librarian Marissa Monteiro hands out a book from Watertown Libary’s new bookmobile.

A new, mobile branch of the library will officially hit the streets of Watertown on Aug. 13, but the bookmobile has already proven to be a hit during test runs.

Community Outreach Librarian Marissa Monteiro has been working out the kinks, and making test runs in the brightly colored Mercedes Sprinter van — the Watertown Free Public Library’s new bookmobile.

The official debut of the bookmobile, which has been named the “Speed Reader,” will be at the Watertown Arts Market on Saturday, Aug. 13 (raid date Aug. 14) from noon to 5 p.m. at Arsenal Park.

“It will be the first time that people can borrow things from the bookmobile, so that will be day one,” Monteiro said. “If you have ever wanted to be the first one to borrow something off the bookmobile, that is your chance.”

Along with the books, music CDs, and DVDs, Monteiro will be setting up a table to play dominos, put out lawn games, and have some giveaways.

The bookmobile is stocked with its own set of materials loaded on one of several rolling book shelves that can be secured inside, and moved on and off the van on the wheelchair lift.

“The collection we are starting with here is based on high circulation numbers: things we already know are popular, things we know will be a hit,” Monteiro said. “And we will continue to build the collection based on community feedback.”

Before the bookmobile’s first official event, some youngsters got a sneak peak at the Speed Reader.

“We got invited to Camp Pequossette at the Hosmer School, and it was adorable,” Monteiro said. “In a surprise to absolutely no one, the bookmobile was a massive hit with children.”

The bookmobile parked next to the curb, Monteiro deployed the van’s built-in awning, set up a couple fold chairs, and brought out the bookmobile’s mascot, Pepe Perezoso — a stuffed sloth. Children boarded the Speed Reader in groups of two or three, and some even got to sit in the driver’s seat.

Watertown Library Children from Camp Pequossette listen to a story during a visit by the Watertown Library’s bookmobile.

The reception for the Speed Reader gratified Montiero.

“When you take it out to a whole group of people, the kids are excited,” she said.

As she packed up to leave, it was pickup time for the camp and the bookmobile caught the eye of parents.

“People were like, ‘Can I go inside?” Monteiro said. “You park it, you open the door, and people want to come on. It’s great.”

Bringing a bookmobile to Watertown has been a longtime dream for Watertown Library Director Caitlin Browne and recently retired Library Director Leone Cole.

“Though we are a well-loved library, we know there are many residents who don’t or can’t use our services,” Browne said in a statement released by the library. “Rather than trying to convince those people to come to us — for materials, classes, or simple human connection — we want to meet them where they are. The bookmobile allows us to better serve people who, for a variety of reasons, are not coming into our building.”

Libraries have been retrofitting carriages, wagons, cars, and buses to carry books and resources out to people for more than a century. In the mid-20th century, bookmobile service gained popularity across the United States, said Jamie Kallestad, the library’s Print and Digital Promotion Specialist. Communities such as Newton, Boston and Waltham used to have bookmobiles.

“There is definitely a long history of bookmobiles in this country and this area, but there are not too many on the streets in the Boston area these days,” Kallestad said. “”Framingham has one. There are no others that we know of in the Minuteman Library Network.”

Worcester also has one, said Monteiro, who added that she has found that each bookmobile finds its own niche.

“They are all serving unique communities, and you have to adapt to the community that you serve,” Monteiro said. “I am in a very urban area, I am not trekking out 11 miles into a rural landscape where I am the only contact with the library that people are going to have.”

While Watertown covers just 4.2 square miles, the bookmobile will bring the collection to more people, Kallestad said.

“Even though we are only four square miles, if you live two miles from the library and you don’t have a car, that’s a really long way,” he said.  

Monteiro said there are also many people in Watertown who either do not have a library card or have one but are not using it. She wants to reach people who have not been visiting the library.

“If that means playgrounds, if that means apartment complexes, if that means sporting events, we are going to find you,” Monteiro said.

The bookmobile will be making appearances multiple times a week.

“I like the idea of tailgating at a high school football game, or bringing it to the Commander’s Mansion for events they do there,” Monteiro said. “We had zumba at Pride and that was a big hit, doing that but with the bookmobile at a park, why not?”

People will be able to request a visit by going to the bookmobile’s website. Monteiro stressed that there must be room for a 20-foot long, 10-foot tall van to park and set up the books outside without blocking the street or sidewalk. Also, it cannot be on a hill or steep incline.

The bookmobile also provides a way to show people what is available at the library.

“We also know that we have a lot of people in Watertown not originally from the United States and American public libraries are pretty unique,” Monteiro said. “So, if you are not accustomed to using the library or have an idea that the library is for the academic elite, only for students, then you probably are not coming into the building or taking advantage of all of the services that are available to you.”

Monteiro was hired in late August 2021 to drive the bookmobile, so she has been eagerly awaiting its debut.

Watertown LIbrary The Watertown Free Public Library’s bookmobile will make stops several times a week. Public Outreach Librarian Marissa Monteiro was hired to drive the Speed Reader.

The van took several months to be built and outfitted as a bookmobile. Kallestad designed the van’s wrap, which features bright colors and outlines of the streets of Watertown.

Donors made the bookmobile a reality, including one wishing to remain anonymous who gave $100,000.

“Over half the funds came from donations,” Monteiro said. “It is amazing. It shows how important library services are in Watertown.” 

Before the Speed Reader’s maiden voyage, a launch ceremony will be held on Aug. 13 in the parking lot of the Watertown Free Public Library, 123 Main St. from 10 to 10:30 a.m.

“We will read the names of the donors, and thank everyone,” Monteiro said.

4 thoughts on “Bookmobile Ready to Make Its Debut, Bring Watertown Library to the Public

  1. How wonderful to have this great Library service! I am excited for so many to visit & see our library on wheels! ❤ Thank you to all who made this possible!

  2. It was a dream of mine for the library to have a bookmobile and I want to thank everyone who donated to the cause. I especially want to thank my good friend Elodia Thomas who led the effort to raise funds in honor of my retirement. Marissa – I wish you much success as you take the library into the community!

    • Leone, It was an honor to initiate and organize this legacy “thank you” effort. You gave your heart and soul to the Watertown community for 27 years. And let’s not forget, you’ve been a legend in our surrounding communities as well.
      I am hoping that your dream of a bookmobile, now a reality, will knit our rapidly changing community together and bring joy, curiosity, and excitement to all as it travels throughout Watertown. With Marissa at the wheel, the bookmobile will have a great ambassador.
      Thank you for your smarts, your humor, and your unflagging service. “You done us proud!” My secret name for the bookmobile will be _ _ _ _.

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