A ‘Kid In a Candy Store’—On the Palm Beach County Bookmobile
Recently, I felt just like a kid in a candy store, when I did something I haven’t done since childhood—I climbed aboard a big bus filled with books. When I heard about the bookmobile, I had to check it out in person. This is what I found:
Mike Barto had to spend $120 from his own pocket to get a job, but 23 years later, he still says it was “absolutely worth it!”
April marks Barto’s anniversary as a library associate, but you won’t find him inside an office. Most days he’s behind the wheel of a big, brightly painted bus that brings books to readers. Each month, the Palm Beach County Bookmobile makes more than 40 stops, traveling 1,200 miles—and some days, it delivers as many as 400 books.
Year round, except for weekends and some federal holidays, Barto, Marianne Herd, and Francisco Contento, with some help from supervisor Ronald Glass, keep local residents reading. Barto is on the big bus most days, driving from Jupiter to Boca Raton to Belle Grade, while Herd and Contento switch off. They alternate between the Bookmobile and the Library Annex, where they care for the behind-the-scenes operations.
“We handle the ordering of the books, processing them (and weeding out books that don’t do well),” Herd said. “We have to pull from holds that other libraries want to borrow.”
The Bookmobile operates year round, but the schedule changes every six months, based on the number of books in circulation, which is the number checked out at each stop. Declining numbers, says Herd, call for a change. “If a stop isn’t doing good, we’ll drop it and add a new one. But our good stops, they stay.”
Listening is a big part of this job. A job that required Barto to obtain a commercial driver’s license. When the county called him for an interview, he was already in the process of getting his CDL and had spent $120 of his own money. “I even rented a truck to take the test,” Barto said.
And he loves his job, which feels more like fun than work. Discussing books and having a flexible schedule are just two of the perks. Then there are the people he interacts with. “The clientele are very nice,” Barto said.
In fact, the clientele determines which books the library staff orders. “We’re definitely listening to what people are saying,” Herd says.
After talking to readers, Barto determines which books are in demand. He created “Mike’s Favorites,” a list of about 50 titles. It’s impressive, comprised of books that have topped the New York Times Bestseller List for many months, such as All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr; The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak; The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult; Molokai, by Alan Brennert, The Help, by Kathryn Stockett; and several others.
When readers talk, Barto pays attention. “When they return, they say (that book) was great and I ask ‘why’ . . . (and) they give me tidbits about the book.” Barto keeps that in my mind and then, when someone else comes on the Bookmobile, “I listen to all the synopses of books, and then pair books with readers.”
A voracious reader since childhood, “Mike’s Favorites” has come to represent “books I know . . . books that have depth to them,” he says.
But Barto doesn’t just know which reader likes mysteries. He knows their specific tastes—down to the type of mystery, and whether they prefer English or Scottish or hard-boiled New York City police detective stories.
Alice Weiss, who reads at least four books a week and is a regular, agrees. She says Barto “gets a feeling for what we like. He’s very good.” As a child, Weiss says a librarian took her “by the hand, took me to the children’s section . . . and I never stopped going to the library. Ever.”
A retired woman over a certain age, Weiss seems the epitome of many readers who come aboard the Bookmobile. Then there is the other end of the spectrum—the children who visit the Bookmobile.
“It’s fun to watch the kids come in. Their eyes light up (at all the books),” Barto said. “It’s like kids in a candy store.”
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Boy, have I been busy! My seventh book, Shatter the Silence, the long-awaited sequel to my first memoir will be released May 7. That’s on the heels of Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang, a collection of my newspaper columns from 1988-91, which came out in April. Prior to those two books, Guilt by Matrimony was released last November. It’s about the murder of Aspen socialite Nancy Pfister.
My memoir, Sister of Silence, is about surviving domestic violence and how journalism helped free me; Cheatin’ Ain’t Easy, now in ebook format, is about the life of Preston County native, Eloise Morgan Milne; The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese (a New York Times bestseller, with coauthor Geoff Fuller) and Pretty Little Killers (also with Fuller), released July 8, 2014, and featured in the August 18 issue of People Magazine.
For an in-depth look at the damaging effects of the silence that surrounds abuse, please watch my live TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013, at Connecticut College.
Have a great day and remember, it’s whatever you want to make it!
Editor’s Note: Daleen Berry is a New York Times best-selling author and a recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She has won several other awards, for investigative journalism and her weekly newspaper columns, and her memoir, Sister of Silence, placed first in the West Virginia Writers’ Competition. Ms. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. To read an excerpt of her memoir, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Ms. Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”