For 36 years and counting, Linda Levens has been driving the bookmobile for the Public Library of Anniston-Calhoun County, making her way on back roads out to Peek’s Hill, Eastaboga, Bynum, Alexandria and other parts of the county far from the main library in downtown Anniston.
“When I started in 1982, I would stop at churches and daycares and some residences,” Levens said. Her favorite stop in those days was Webster’s Chapel Methodist Church. “There were a lot of mothers not working, and all these little kids, and it was really busy, and really friendly,” she said.
The bookmobile doesn’t stop at Webster’s Chapel anymore. Budget cuts over the years and declining interest mean Levens doesn’t travel as far out, or visit as often.
“Now I don’t have that many kids, because so many parents work. I have some grandparents who bring their grandchildren in the summertime. But it’s more adults, usually,” Levens said. She still visits one daycare, but makes more stops at nursing homes and senior living complexes. She also takes her rolling library to Coosa Valley Youth Services for troubled teenagers and Rainbow Omega, home to adults with intellectual disabilities.
Calhoun County started its bookmobile service in 1928, Levens said, making it the second county in the state to have a traveling library. “At that time, they did community stops. There was actually a house in Nances Creek where they installed a bookshelf, and a woman kept books in her house and checked them out. They also went to schools, because a lot of schools didn’t have libraries.”
In 1982, when Levens first started driving the bookmobile, she would visit each stop every two weeks. Now, she’s on the road three weeks of every month, and she visits each stop once a month. (On the plus side, that means bookmobile patrons can check out books for four weeks — and there are no overdue book fines, since Levens doesn’t carry cash on the bookmobile.)
Levens has regular patrons, including a few who read so much that they hunt her down once a week at different stops.
The most popular genre on the bookmobile is inspirational fiction. “There are a lot of older people who want to read good, clean books,” Levens said. “Bestsellers are still popular, although people complain that ‘He’s not writing as well as he used to.’”
Inspirational fiction is Levens’ personal favorite, too, although despite what you might think, she does not get to spend all her time reading. “No! I’m busy checking books in, checking books out and shelving all those books!”
She said there’s no real trick to driving the bookmobile. You just have to remember that it’s top-heavy. “Don’t turn corners quick, because if you do, you’re going to throw books in the floor, and then you have to pick them all up.”
Years ago, a little boy asked her how fast she could go in the bookmobile. “On these little country roads, you just drive along,” she said. “But I can go 55 on the highway.”
Levens, 67, has no plans to retire anytime soon. “I’ve always liked to drive, just get in the car and go,” she said. She’s been doing a lot more of that since her husband passed away last August.
“I’m just blessed to have a job that I like — just being out, meeting all the different people,” she said. “They all become like family, after seeing them for so long.”
Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.