Bookmobiles Travel Many Routes for Readers

Bringing reading to residents of the San Fernando Valley is a daily service provided by three bookmobiles that visit elementary schools, senior citizens' apartments, parks and neighborhood shopping centers under a program sponsored by the Los Angeles Public Library.

Its purpose is to furnish library services to those who would find it difficult or impossible to reach branch libraries. This is particularly true of a number of elementary schools that are located far from the 17 Valley branches.

"For most of these children, the Bookmobile is their introduction to a public library and pleasure reading," said Rita Kort, a senior librarian who is in charge of the Valley bookmobiles.

Another unit headed by senior librarian Calvin Robinson serves the inner city. This covers South-Central and East Los Angeles and reaches as far as San Pedro.

Each Bookmobile carries between 3,000 and 3,500 books. Kort visits the downtown Central Library twice a month to select new titles as they become available. The Valley unit has a catalogue of 52,000 hardcover volumes at its Van Nuys depot in addition to more than 10,000 paperbacks. Its annual acquisition budget is relatively modest--$29,500 for adult books, and $18,000 for children's literature.

"Sometimes I'll miss a sleeper," Kort added. "The Bookmobile will make its rounds, and people will come aboard holding a laudatory review they've clipped. We may get 100 requests for the book. Our next task is to get it. Often we find the book at the downtown Central Library, or at one of the city's 63 branches. There's a waiting list for best sellers, but eventually they'll reach the persons who request them."

Foreign language books are also available.

The Bookmobile arrived at the Casa Panorama Senior Citizens apartments in Panorama City, one of a number of similar residences the traveling library visits every two weeks. Kort was accompanying the regular staff: Raoul Aguillar, driver; Connie Zambrano, clerk; and Robert Bluhm, librarian.

"These retired people really look forward to the arrival of the Bookmobile," Kort commented, glancing through the window at the assembled crowd, many holding empty shopping bags. "They can select best sellers, paperbacks and large type books. Current magazines are also available."

A dozen residents entered the van, perusing the book-lined shelves. Millee Wadey soon carried a stack of books to the check-out desk.

"I'll have these read long before the Bookmobile returns in two weeks," she said. "Often, I'll read two books in a 24-hour period."

Others reached for travel books, novels, biographies, volumes on history and mysteries, which are among the most popular. There were requests for books not on the shelves. Zambrano made a notation of the wanted titles, assuring the readers that they'll do their best to find the books. An hour later the doors were closed and Aguillar started the motor. The Bookmobile was off to its next stop.

A second Bookmobile entered the playground at the Fernangeles Elementary School in Sun Valley. Blinds were raised on each side of the van, revealing shelves of books appealing to young readers. Gloria Komaba, a children's librarian is one of the staff responsible for purchasing new books for this age level, which ranges from 7 to 12.

"For the youngest, picture books and those printed in large type are what we look for," she explained. "As they grow, so do their interests. The Hardy Boys, popular during the 1920s, still have a receptive audience. So do Frank Baum's Oz books. The Nancy Drew stories have an appeal, but Judy Blume is an author extremely popular with kids. Boys are interested in sports books, and we have a heavy demand for those on jokes, riddles and magic. Obviously there must be scores of aspiring amateur magicians."

The selection of the books made available to the schools is not necessarily educational, but the Bookmobile has served--and continues to serve--as an introduction to the pleasures of reading for thousands of youngsters.

Rita Kort sat in her Van Nuys office surrounded by books. She pointed to a wall map that pinpoints the Bookmobile stops.

"It's a varied lot," she observed. "Senior housings, schools, and there's a low-income housing project. The residents are poor. We have a waiting list of more schools and senior apartments that want our Bookmobiles to visit them. Unfortunately, we can't expand the program at this time. We just don't have enough books."

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