Books on the Move

Photography by Sacramento Public Library

Meet Vincent Van Go, the Sacramento Public Library’s new bookmobile.

The state-of-the-art Ford Transit 350 cargo van pulls into the gated parking lot of Saybrook, a 61-unit South Sacramento apartment complex built in 1960. Emblazoned on the side of the sleek green vehicle is the announcement, “Books Are Just the Beginning.”

This is the Sacramento Public Library’s new mobile services van—known to library staff as “Vincent Van Go” or “Vinny” for short. It’s a leased vehicle equipped for the digital age.

Saybrook’s residents are chronically homeless families who find housing and supportive services there as part of a program jointly sponsored by Lutheran Social Services and the Sacramento Housing Authority. “Our goal is to get to urban library deserts,” says Cathy Crosthwaite, the library’s community engagement manager.

Much of the van’s focus is on introducing families to tech-related library services and loaning multilingual books and STEM kits (hands-on projects based on science, technology, engineering and math). Vinny complements the library’s two traditional bookmobiles, which serve seniors and families with very young children. “We’re reinventing mobile services,” says library director Rivkah Sass.

Vinny has charging stations for devices, outlets for computers and a television monitor for data-based demonstrations of what people can access at a library, such as how to arrange for a free tutor. It’s also a site for video game engagement between library staff and children.

Christina Fomby
Christina Fomby

The van has 16 scheduled stops a month, serving more than 1,200 regular customers. It also shows up at special events. Since June 8, when it launched, it’s had an outreach presence at numerous pop-ups, including World Refugee Day at Cal Expo and National Night Out.

At Saybrook, driver-library assistant Christina Fomby maneuvers the van into a reserved parking space and climbs out. She’s joined by library associate Rosa Fernandez and library assistant Desiree Kowalski. A half-dozen smiling children come out of their apartments and wave to the women, who wave back. “The best part of this is seeing how excited the kids get when we show up,” Fomby says.

The three library staffers open the van’s rear door, slide out a ramp and begin wheeling out carts full of children’s and adult books and DVDs for checkout. Also for loan are mobile hot spot devices and Read Together story time kits. They set up chairs, tables and a laptop under an awning extended from the van’s roof. “We’re also going to set up the fun stuff for families to play with together, like these giant dominos,” Kowalski says.

A crowd of laughing, jumping children and their mothers and grandmothers gather around the tables, and for the next 90 minutes the staffers play games with the kids and read storybooks with them. The adults check out and return books, DVDs, STEM kits and hotspots, and help young ones choose books. They also consult with the staff on how to access free digital library-sponsored programs such as video tutorials and how to get help with their kids’ homework.

“For a lot of the kids, this is their first experience with the library and they love it,” says Saybrook case manager Pamela Marquez.

Now it’s time for the library team to repack Vinny and head to the next stop, an apartment complex whose residents are mostly Russian and Middle Eastern, many of them refugees. Marquez watches as the children—most of them carrying armfuls of books—head back to their apartments, their moms and grandmothers following close behind. “This means a whole bunch to them, and I love seeing the families together,” she says.