The Bookmobile in San Elijo Hills


Katie Beebe-San Elijo Life Staff Blogger

It’s late afternoon when I spot the Bookmobile in the parking lot of the old San Elijo Hills Visitor’s Center (behind The PepperTree & Jonville Team offices). A large tour bus, the bookmobile is unmistakable — covered in brightly colored murals depicting people of different ethnicities and the words “Bookmobile” in large block letters on the top. When I walk up the steep stairs onto the bus, I am amazed at the interior.

Almost every inch of available wall space is covered with shelving- rows and rows of books lining the shelves. There are even a few shelves of CDs and DVDS, and three laptops available for use by anyone with a library card, assuring any inquiring patron at first glance that this is, indeed, a fully functioning mobile library.

There are a few patrons inside the bookmobile when I arrive. They are engaged with one of the workers, and I can tell by their familiarity that they must be regulars. I approach a man sitting behind the checkout desk at the front of the bookmobile. He says his name is Luis Damian, and his co-worker is Martha Maurits. He calls her over to answer my questions.

Luis and Martha tell me they’ve been coming with the Bookmobile to San Elijo Hills for three years. The bookmobile used to stop about two miles away in Elfin Forest, but now they come to the parking lot behind the old Visitor’s Center in San Elijo Hills, faithfully every first and third Thursday. They explain that San Elijo Hills is one of many different stops they visit every two weeks. Martha pulls out a list of their stops, and I can see they are well travelled: There are 20 stops on their rotation!

“Who is coming out to the Bookmobile?” I ask Martha.

“Oh, everybody,” she answers. “We have retirees, we have little ones, preschoolers, grade-schoolers, middle-schoolers, adults.” She explains that the crowds at each stop vary. Some stops will have mostly seniors, while others yield mostly preschoolers. She also noted she and Luis visit two different Indian Reservations with the Bookmobile –Rincon and San Pasqual.

“Our collection is really geared toward everyone, probably if we had to say who most of our customers were, really it’s a huge variety. It’s very diverse.” Martha notes a palpable difference in the local vibe: “In San Elijo Hills, this is a place where people happen to run into each other. Neighbors run into each other.”

Luis adds of the Bookmobile’s popularity: “It’s convenient for a lot of people because they don’t have to drive, they don’t have to commute. We have a large selection, we’re talking about 6-7 million copies.” He explains that if the Bookmobile doesn’t have a book in their collection, they can pull the items from other cities and counties. They participate in a program called “LINK+”, a system where cooperating libraries in California and Nevada lend out copies of books that other libraries might not have.

The Bookmobile specializes in customer requests. They have, in fact, too many customer requests to fit on the shelves: books sit in boxes next to the shelves, marked with special tags showing they’re reserved for some lucky reader.

The Bookmobile has a selection of materials that could whet any appetite or reading level: children’s books, young adult fiction, adult fiction, audiobooks, music, magazines and DVDs. Luis calls my attention to a box of large print, colorful cardboard books. He jokes that they keep this box of books for the babies to chew on. Truly, there is something for everyone here!

In addition to the large selection, (Martha asks that I specifically mention) the Bookmobile is totally bilingual. They carry books, magazines, DVDs, music, and audiobooks in Spanish, and the librarians speak Spanish themselves (Luis is fluent, and Martha says she can speak enough to communicate). She says this is important, especially in San Diego County where Spanish is spoken so abundantly due to the close proximity to the border and the large number of Spanish speaking residents that live here.

“Our movie checkout is a big deal now, too. People love the fact that our movies are free of charge,” Martha tells me. I learn that if people’s accounts are in good standing, they can check out pretty much unlimited materials, and the benefit of the bookmobile is that unlike the library, you get longer check out times and smaller fines if your books do become overdue.

“We normally carry around 5,000 items in this unit, including magazines, books, videos…the old book mobile that we used to have. It was smaller and we used to have around 2,500 items, so we doubled the size.” Luis talks about the upgrade from firsthand experience: he was personally involved in the design of the new Bookmobile, giving tips and advice about how to build the best mobile library the county could have. The bookmobiles were constructed in North Carolina, and when the time came for them to be transported back, Luis himself went out with another library employee and drove both bookmobiles home in two separate trips.  When I asked him how they kept the books from falling off the shelves when making sharp turns, he laughs and said that the shelves were specially designed to sit at a slightly upward angle. They really thought of everything!

The pride is evident in Luis’s voice as he leads me outside to show me their wheelchair lift (the bookmobile is fully wheelchair accessible). The lift is built into the side of the bus, the large doors almost invisible to the eye of an outsider.  The shelves inside are apparently on hinges, swinging open to allow access to anyone coming up the ramp.  He describes the murals that cover the bus — gorgeous, vibrant pictures that were done by artist John Whelan. The busses are wrapped in a special vinyl material, not painted, he explains.

“You can see the variety of the people, the way they dress and everything because this is what we do. We do lots of programming for many different cultures….. we don’t deny services for anybody.” The mural depicts people of different ethnicities and a man playing a guitar. Luis says even the guitar is representative of the library. Sometimes they will ask or pay artists to come out and perform for special events. There are more pictures, which Luis points out: “You got the mom, the young kid, that’s the library right there.”

I go back inside to take some pictures and one of the patrons takes the opportunity to rave about Martha and Luis. “These guys are really good,” she says.  She told me she comes to the Bookmobile all the time with her kids and they love it. I sense a great relationship between the residents of San Elijo and this Bookmobile.  I ask Martha and Luis if they love their job, and they answer with a resounding yes. “It’s is the best job in the library,” Martha says with a smile. Luis agrees: “I think it’s unique. I think its something that I would say I’m proud of what I’m doing.”

The Bookmobile visits San Elijo Hills every first and third Thursday of the month from 4-6PM. Checkouts are free with a San Diego County Library Card, and the bookmobile is fully wheelchair accessible and fully bilingual, with Spanish-speaking staff and materials en espanol.

Katie Beebe

San Elijo Life Staff Blogger


Video about the murals:

Bookmobile Website


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