By Ron Hayes
The Palm Beach County Library System boasts 17 branches, from Boca Raton to Tequesta, West Palm Beach to Pahokee.
And one with no permanent address.
The library’s roving Bookmobile stops at 43 sites throughout the county, but South Palm Beach is its biggest and busiest fan.
“Most of our stops are bi-weekly,” says Wayne Reimsnyder, who supervises the Bookmobile operation. “But South Palm Beach is weekly. It’s our busiest stop during the season, and though circulation dwindles off-season, we still go every week.”
Forty feet bumper to bumper, the school bus-style Bookmobile rumbles down South Ocean Boulevard every Friday morning and backs into the Town Hall parking lot promptly at 10 o’clock for a two-hour visit.
Waiting inside are 2,500 items — new books in large print, regular print and audio — as well as music CDs. No DVDs on board, but tell them what you want and they’ll bring it next week.
Because space is limited, the Bookmobile tends to stock only newer books, and because Michael Bartow, the regular driver, knows many of the users by name, he offers customized service.
“Michael knows I love the Jan Karon series,” says Town Clerk Janet Whipple, “so when her newest book came out, he put in a reservation and saved it for me.”
Those audio books are especially appreciated by Whipple, who commutes from Pahokee every weekday.
“The Art of Racing in the Rain was absolutely phenomenal,” she says. “Oh, that was great. Michael just works with everybody when he gets a gist of what they like.”
On a recent Friday morning, Bartow was absent on an annual leave day, so assistant John Campbell was in charge, assisted by library associate Karen Marks.
“I’d estimate we check out between 70 and a hundred items every week,” Campbell said, “and we see about 50 visitors.”
The Bookmobile was always busy, but never crowded. Borrowers came and went, stopped to chat with friends, ask about books, recommend books.
“The Bookmobile is the best invention in the whole world,” gushed Sandy Seidman, “and these are the greatest people. They get every book you want. All my friends know I make no appointments for Friday mornings because I have to come here first.”
Anyone with a county library card is welcome to use the Bookmobile. You don’t have to live in South Palm Beach to borrow materials. But because the town of Palm Beach is outside the library’s taxing district, residents pay $15 for a six-month privilege, or $30 a year.
Phyllis Kuby has been paying the fee for five years.
“This is the best thing in the neighborhood,” she said while waiting to check out a book. “It’s so convenient and the people are the nicest, most considerate people you’d ever want to meet.”
While Kuby waited, Mayor Don Clayman picked up John Grisham’s latest, The Confession, for his wife.
“I’m reading American Assassin by Vince Flynn,” he said. “I love a good spy book.”
And so they come and go, emptying their book bags and filling them again, at the busiest Bookmobile stop in Palm Beach County.
“Off-season, it’s not that many,” says Whipple. “But in-season, it’s like a blue-light special in there.”
By Ron Hayes