HEFLIN — The Cheaha Regional Library is replacing its old bookmobile with a new one so the library can continue to bring the library experience to its many patrons across east Alabama.
The Cheaha Regional Library system — which started in 1976 — is composed of seven small-town libraries in five counties and uses a bookmobile to take books to nursing homes, senior centers, Head Starts, communities and home schoolers.
With more than 260,000 miles on it, the old bookmobile has seen better days. Thanks to a Library Service and Technology Act grant through the Alabama Public Library Service, however, a new library-on-wheels will soon spread good words next year according to Sherry Poe, director of the Cheaha Regional Library.
Poe said the grant is a matching grant that she thought would never come through.
“We were able to do a letter of support last December and then in the springtime we were able to write a grant and we waited,” said Poe.
“I worked very hard on writing that grant. I had several people to look at the grant and read it over for me and help me with any mistakes I may have made, then we waited and waited to hear after I mailed it in,” she said.
“We were beginning to think we weren't going to get it because it had taken so long, because COVID has slowed everything down,” said Poe.
Last Monday Poe went to the mailbox to mail bills and see what books had arrived.
The mail that day included notice from the state that the grant was theirs, she said.
“We were just so surprised and so happy because it’s really hard to get a vehicle grant, they don’t always have them available but they did,” Poe said.
Poe said the matching grant was for a total of $70,000 meaning the library had to raise its half, $35,000. The library had been working on its share of the matching grant when COVID hit.
“We had to shut down and we didn't think we’d make the money limit that we needed but some of the money we saved being off the route helped us kinda get over the edge. The municipalities and counties were very generous to help us contribute toward that matching fund, too,” said Poe.
Poe said she has been working on getting funds for a new bookmobile for five years.
“All I could do was scream, it made me so happy, all the people that had helped and have been asking about the grant, all the patrons that are going to be so happy,” said Poe.
Kayron Triplett has been driving the library’s various bookmobiles for the last 40 years and said the current one — a 1994 model — is too costly to maintain.
“It’s always leaking something,” she said, noting that it boasts a big Cummings engine and the Allison transmission. That’s good, she added, “but they’re expensive to work on and it has a lot of miles on it,” said Triplett.
Poe said that it broke once and only used parts could be found which had to be shipped from California.
When the vehicle breaks down, the loss involves more than just unread books.
“Sometimes the only person they see for a month is the bookmobile driver in some places she goes so it’s really important,” said Poe.
During the COVID-19 shutdown the bookmobile sat silent, depriving patrons of their bookish needs.
Triplett said it felt good to get back on the road again.
“The first time I got to back to the Head Starts after the COVID was so exciting because they were just bowled over. I got little kids coming in there excited that they got to come pick their own books, they don’t get the library experience at the Head Starts because they don’t let them travel anymore,” said Triplett.
Triplett said she got a lot of calls from older patrons, too, during the shutdown asking how much longer before service would resume.
Triplett can’t wait to get behind the wheel of the new bookmobile.
“I’ve worn everyone of them out before we got rid of them,” said Triplett.
Triplett said she’s excited for the customers who will benefit from the new bookmobile.
“I’ve been doing this 40 years, so when you spend everyday in this bookmobile and you visit with people like you're inviting them into your home, this is almost one of those jobs you feel guilty getting paid for it’s so much fun,” said Triplett.