JeffCo Library’s flagship vehicle is a lifeline for rural readers

Luciano Marano
Posted 9/1/20

They just keep coming.

A woman in Port Ludlow is looking for knitting magazines and the first season of “Yellowstone” on DVD. Series star Kevin Costner is, she said, “not hard to …

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JeffCo Library’s flagship vehicle is a lifeline for rural readers


They just keep coming.

A woman in Port Ludlow is looking for knitting magazines and the first season of “Yellowstone” on DVD. Series star Kevin Costner is, she said, “not hard to look at,” though she dislikes the show’s salty language.

A man in Quilcene is looking for the latest Donald Trump tell-all, a scathing bestseller by the president’s niece Mary L. Trump. Finding the waiting list considerable, he settles for Tom Brokaw’s “The Fall of Richard Nixon” instead.

Also in Quilcene, a woman comes urgently seeking a bagful of books to occupy her speed-reader husband. Things are, she said, getting desperate at home.

“[He] was down to reading romance novels,” said Kathy Barth-Sheats.

All three, in addition to many others, find information and entertainment alike through the primary outreach vessel of the Jefferson County Library’s Mobile Services: the bookmobile.

It is for many rural residents especially a lifeline of sorts, and the iconic vehicle’s regular stop in their area an eagerly anticipated event.

“The bookmobile is a very essential part of the community,” said Barth-Sheats, a Brinnon resident and lover of mystery novels in particular.

“They’re very good at recommending; they know what we like to read,” she said. “We look at least once a week.”

That is, they do now.

But there was a recent period — brief, though it didn’t feel that way to patrons — when the bookmobile was, like so many other shops and services, forced to close due to mandatory restrictions imposed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We were going through withdrawals without them,” said Barth-Sheats. “The bookmobile is very essential and we missed seeing Greg and Celeste.”

Celeste Bennett is JCL’s Mobile Services Manager and overseer of the bookmobile, among other duties. Greg Turner is one of several library assistants who regularly mans a route. They get to know the patrons and what they like, handle holds and deliveries, and are often called on to make recommendations.

“That’s part of the beauty of small librarianship,” said Bennett, who has held her position for the past two years.

“Outreach is where my heart’s at,” she said. “The job covers these community stops and under normal circumstances we also go to the schools ... and then also the corrections center and food banks. It’s literally mobile services, trying to find anywhere we can go to either take the library somewhere or make people more aware of what the library can offer if they can just get online.”

Via the library’s website (, under the “Use the Library” tab), residents and guests of JeffCo can get a library card, arrange to hold an item or have it delivered, and view the full catalogue of books, movies, CDs, etc.

The bookmobile itself is a 34-foot Freightliner with a customized coach that carries about 4,000 items “over hills and along winding roads without spilling them from the shelves,” Bennett said.

“It’s really important,” she explained. “We probably see 40 or 50 people regularly every week, and then a lot of people come every other week or once a month.”

Through an interlibrary agreement, Bennett said North Olympic Library covers the West Coast of JeffCo, as it’s simply too far for the bookmobile to travel regularly. But that still leaves a lot of readers for them to serve — and now they once more can, though in an admittedly restricted capacity.

Even as its on the road again and back to the regular seven-stop schedule Monday to Thursday, things are still not quite the same for JeffCo’s most beloved tome transport.

“You’ll see that our public-facing interactions are entirely outside the bookmobile during this phase of the pandemic,” Bennett said.

Returns and handled via boxes or bags set slightly away from the display table outside the bookmobile, and the usual onboard browsing is a no-go for now, as is handling the products. Staff are wearing gloves and masks. Returned items are quarantined for 96 hours at least to ensure cleanliness before being put back into circulation. A rope attached to posts keep patrons at arm’s length.

As with so much else, contactless contact is the current prime directive.

Still, nobody is complaining.

Just the opposite, in fact. Faced with the idea of a potentially prolonged bookmobile hiatus, Barth-Sheats balked.

“It would be horrible,” she said, “it would be absolutely horrible. We’re college-educated and we like to read. And with the movies and the music and the magazines — it’s where I read the paper.”

As a gathering place as much as a resource, Bennett said the bookmobile is important to its patrons.

“The bookmobile has become part of the community,” she said. “People are used to being able to come and catch up, and we’ve had a lot of people who’ve said it just feels so good to get some normalcy coming back, even if it’s a short conversation from 6 feet away.”

The man who’d been hoping to pick up the new Trump tell-all said he “ran out” and bought a Kindle when the bookmobile was forced to suspend service.

“It was weird, but I’ve gotten used to it,” he said.

And yet there he was, back at the bookmobile as soon as possible, looking to get his hands on the real thing and chat with staff.

In a world of heavy headlines, Bennett said more patrons are asking for lighter fare.

“We’re seeing a lot more of ‘Can you just get me a lighthearted comedy?’” she said. “And the mysteries are always popular. I think they’re escapism, even if they are a murder mystery.”

Even as they shelter in place and sanitize everything, Bennett said, reading-wise the people of JeffCo are getting more adventurous.

“It’s fun, and I think that I am hearing that more from people: ‘What if you just pick some things for me?’”