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A mobile library in Florida gets awarded by the American Library Association


What moves around on wheels, has free Wi-Fi and built-in bookshelves? A library - mobile one, at any rate. Last year, a team of librarians in Florida retrofitted a van with bookshelves and then hit the streets of Highlands County to spread a love for reading. Things have since gone well. Their mobile library initiative just received an award for public service from the American Library Association. Vikki Brown was the leader of the team and is a manager of the Highlands County Library System. She joins us from Sebring, Fla. Thanks so much for being with us.

VIKKI BROWN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: How does a mobile library work? Who do you see come into your mobile library?

BROWN: So we cover five counties - DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee. They're all rural counties. And so we're serving those that don't have the ability to get to our permanent facilities due to work on maybe a farm, being retired or on a fixed income and a lot of people who just can't make it in because of the rising cost of fuel and other resources, so their budgets are a little strained. And again, since we're five rural counties, a lot of those where we're going work in the agriculture industry, like farms or working in citrus. And so a lot of those individuals don't have the ability to go, in the middle of the day, all the way into town to get to one of our brick-and-mortar branches, even with evening and weekend hours. So because life is complicated, those are the people that we're targeting, the ones that don't have the ability to travel sometimes 30, 40 minutes from their home to one of our main branches.

SIMON: What do they like to read?

BROWN: Oh, our people here, they have a wide variety of what they like to read - anything from James Patterson to maybe some Christian fiction. We also have a large Western demographic here that loves to read those, and fantasies.

SIMON: And you have Wi-Fi, I gather?

BROWN: We do have Wi-Fi hot spots on the mobile library. Yes.

SIMON: Why is that particularly important among a lot of the people you serve?

BROWN: So again, because of the rural nature of where we're going, there's not a lot of high-speed internet access in those areas at this moment. And so to ensure that those individuals can still apply for jobs, complete homework or just use the internet to do basic research, or even kiddos playing games, it's really important that they have the same access.

SIMON: That's right. Games are important to youngsters, aren't they?

BROWN: Well, you know, they have to unwind at some point.

SIMON: (Laughter) Yeah. I guess we all do. This, of course, is not the first books-on-wheels program. What do you think particularly impressed the folks at the American Library Association?

BROWN: Maybe what was most impressive is that we're small libraries. We're minimally staffed. And to see everyone in these branches working so hard to try to provide the same resources that maybe a larger system would do is uplifting and inspiring, to know that even the smaller library systems and branches are - we're really making the most with what we have and thinking outside of the box.

SIMON: Do you have a book you could recommend for us? - I mean, if somebody walks in and says, oh, I'd like something to read.

BROWN: Oh, that's hard, because there's so many good choices. I think usually what we say is, what's your favorite television show? So we can direct them that way. If you're asking my favorite book of all time as the recommendation, I would recommend "Anne Of Green Gables," which is a Canadian classic.

SIMON: Anne is a very impressive young woman, isn't she?

BROWN: Yeah. She's assertive and curious, and she doesn't let, maybe, sometimes life's realities dampen her dreams. And we know that she's always going to go after those dreams.

SIMON: Vikki Brown is manager of the Heartland Library Cooperative and recipient of the American Library Association's I Love My Librarian Award. Thanks so much. Congratulations.

BROWN: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHINJUKU JUMPSHOT'S "2004") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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