Sunday, August 13, 2000
Middlefield, Ohio Children clamber in the library's single aisle for books ï¿½ "Hank the Cow Dog," "The Babysitters Club," "The Black Stallion." Some have walked a mile, barefoot, returning last week's reading materials in grocery bags or even a wheelbarrow. And they're smiling.
This library, the bookmobile of the Geauga County Public Library system, serves Amish country.
It traverses the pristine countryside 50 miles east of Cleveland, making 52 stops for the Amish alone over three of its six days on the road. The other three days it stops at non-Amish sites.
Without movies and television and videos, the Amish children particularly look forward to the once-a-week visit as if the bookmobile were an old friend delivering free candy.
Ida Fisher waits until the bus is in place in her Middlefield driveway and then sends her six children scampering aboard. They range in age from 11 to 1, and the older ones help the younger ones choose.
The process takes no more than 15 minutes, and with the bus still in the drive, five of the children are in chairs on the family porch engrossed in their finds. As the bus pulls away, Ida already is reading to her youngest, Mary.
"Reading's their favorite thing," she says, and 11-year-old daughter Kathryn nods in agreement.
A service in demand
The bookmobile came about thanks to a grant from the State Library of Ohio in 1986. At that time, it made one day of stops in the Amish communities of Middlefield and Parkman.
"The kids in the community got together and discovered that if they gathered on a corner, the bookmobile would stop," says Jane Attina who runs the program.
Soon those gathering places became scheduled stops.
"I had a dream back when we started all this that we'd have a bookmobile just for the Amish," Attina says. "We'd fill it with the things they like best, the westerns and Hardy Boys and inspirational books ï¿½ no videos or audios. Maybe someday that will still happen."
With increased requests for service in the growing Amish community and the addition of stops at more than 40 Amish schools from September to May, that dream might one day become a necessity.
Six affable women keep the bookmobile up and running. They order the books, stock the shelves, wash the bus and sometimes even take books to Amish homes in their own cars after hours when the patrons can't make it to their regular stops.
Bookmobile work is not for everyone. The simple lack of a bathroom on board has turned many away. But those who operate the bus love the work, the people and the camaraderie it affords them.
"Besides, this is the only library branch where if you felt like eating an ice cream, you could just pull the library into the DQ and get a cone," jokes Pat Bonhard who has been working on the bookmobile for seven years.
"The Amish do love us," Bonhard continues. "When they see us, they smile. How many people in the service field can say that about their patrons?"
Books and bakery items
A full service library branch, the bookmobile can order any reading material from any library across the nation.
"The library system is very good at getting us what we need for our specific patrons," says Bonhard. "But we do have limits. You can only hold so much in 28 feet."
The Amish taste in reading material is as varied as that of any other community. On a recent trip through Parkman, one young newlywed checked out two things to take home. The romance novel "My Lover's Secret" was for her. The Archie comic book was for her husband.
The bookmobile has become a fixture in the lives of the Amish along its route.
"They get to know us and trust us," says Bonhard. "They let us use their outhouses. They bring us fresh bakery. And at Christmas, they bring us something at every stop ï¿½ bread and baked goods and deer jerky."
"There is no diet on the bus at Christmastime" chimes in co-worker Barb Arndt.
While some Amish ride pony carts to the bus, most walk, their bags and wheelbarrows laden with the previous week's reading materials, ready to be exchanged.
"That's the best part of it," says Arndt. "To see what these kids go through to get to the books."