For 28 years, driver Christine Hebert of Norway has bused children to school. In the summer, she brings the learning opportunities to them.

For the fifth year, Hebert, 50, will take the wheel of the Oxford Hills Bookmobile Project to provide reading materials for children in rural areas where no library program is available or where using a library during regular hours is not possible.

Norway Public Library Director Ann Siekman, who oversees the project, said the program serves families in the School Administrative District 17 towns of Harrison, Hebron, Otisfield, Oxford, Norway, Paris, West Paris and Waterford.

“We have hundreds of popular titles for all reading levels, but the program is really aimed toward grade-school children,” said Siekman.

Gone are the days when bookmobiles only parked and allowed readers to board the vehicle to peruse titles.

Today’s bookmobile is staffed with a tight-knit literacy squad that pulls into a venue armed with tote bags filled with books. They also have plans for engaging children and their adult caregivers in reading activities they can participate in long after the bus departs.

Beginning June 29, Hebert and a small staff of volunteers will take their rolling library on the road for a six-week tour. They’ll set up a portable circulation desk at a dozen or so locations in the district — such as child care and recreation centers — that have requested literary enhancement for children enrolled in their programs.

Herbert oversees logistical matters, like ensuring that the bus is running smoothly and keeping records on attendance, book inventories and patron feedback. She also loves to see the reaction of young readers when the bookmobile pulls in for weekly visits.

“I love to see the smiles on their faces,” she said. “They know when we’re coming and are waiting for us.”

The bookmobile will visit four different spots each day for 60-minute stays when readers are invited to browse and check-out a book or return titles they’ve checked out previously. The visits include a 30-minute story time session with two or three adult volunteers reading to children, followed by a related craft, activity or some form of entertainment to reinforce story themes.

Siekman said the goal of the project is to help children retain and build on reading skills they gained during the school year, and to give parents and caregivers creative examples for keeping children reading at home.

The books were donated or purchased with community donations.

Upkeep of the vehicle and a salary for two part-time employees, Herbert and a program coordinator, are paid with grants and private fundraising.

“The annual operating budget is about $5,000 and that is partially funded by a $2,000 Maine Reads Community Literacy Project grant that we apply for each year,” said Siekman.

The remaining money comes from community donations and fundraisers like the silent auction this Friday at the Norway Grange Hall.

The success of the auction “is really critical to our being able to offer this program this summer,” said Siekman.

A committee of people from Norway Public Library, the Oxford Hills Adult Education and community organizations help to manage the funds and oversee the program.

Sarah Cecil, executive director of the Maine Reads Community Literacy Project, said the Norway-area bookmobile is the only one she knows of in the area. She said the program is a cost-effective form of literacy outreach that could provide a model for other rural Maine communities.

“All literacy agencies grapple with how to get books into the hands of individuals who need them,” said Cecil. “Ann and her staff do an extraordinary job (accomplishing) that. This program is so well done and really thought out.”

 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com