Facing the prospect of spending thousands of dollars to repair an aging bookmobile, the Des Plaines Public Library's finance committee Wednesday night recommended ending the service in 2012.
The bookmobile's future has been in question for quite some time.
The library board has been considering whether to discontinue the service since 2010 budget discussions after calls from city officials to scale back library expenses.
However, cuts were made in other areas, including capping merit-based pay increases at 2.75 percent, to bring the total library budget to $6.6 million, down from $7.2 million in 2009. The bookmobile was spared so that library officials could study the impact of the service further. Officials have been extending its life every six months ever since.
The committee Wednesday recommended giving it until the end of the year before pulling the plug permanently. That is if the 14-year-old vehicle's engine doesn't quit first, officials said.
Officials just spent $6,750 to rebuild the bookmobile's transmission. It could cost roughly $20,000 to put in a new engine, but that's more than the value of the bus itself, officials said.
The alternative is buying a new bus -- Des Plaines' current bookmobile cost $116,000 when it was purchased in 1997 -- or not having one at all, which many libraries have opted to do in tough economic times, said Jeffery Rozovics, library board treasurer.
Neighboring Indian Trails Public Library District parked its bookmobile for good because of high repair and operating costs.
Only a few North Suburban libraries run bookmobiles today -- Arlington Heights, Aurora, Cook Memorial, Palatine, Warren-Newport and Waukegan.
It costs Des Plaines $132,660 annually -- roughly 2 percent of the total library budget -- to operate the mobile library, housed in a 36-foot-long bus carrying a collection of roughly 13,000 items. The collection includes popular fiction and nonfiction books for adults and children, music CDs, audiobooks, DVDs and magazines. Des Plaines has been providing the service for 14 years.
The bookmobile's circulation for 2009 was 51,612, while the main library's was 1.2 million for the same year. In 2010, the bookmobile's circulation dipped to 48,333, while the main library's remained unchanged.
The bus makes 40 stops monthly during the school year, and 32 during summer, hitting each stop twice a month. The bookmobile is used mainly by youth, who make up 65 percent of checkouts.
Yet the bookmobile is more than just a mini library on wheels. The jobs of three part-time staff members -- collectively earning roughly $81,000 annually in salary and benefits -- are tied into its operation, Rozovics said.
Those employees will likely be let go.
Library board President George Magerl said officials need to find an alternative way of providing similar service to residents who live too far from the library on 1501 Ellinwood St., in downtown.
The library also runs a smaller van service that delivers books to homebound library patrons and carries collections to assisted living facilities.
"Right now home delivery is for homebound. We have to rethink that," Magerl said.
On weekdays, the van is used by the library's youth services staff to visit to preschools. The 14-year-old vehicle has needed only routine maintenance thus far. Should the need arise to replace it, officials said they would opt for a bigger vehicle that could haul more books.
The committee recommended extending the library's contract with Rosemont to serve one stop in that village through the end of the year, and billing the village monthly in case the bookmobile dies before then.
The full library board will decide at its May 17 meeting whether to accept the committee's recommendation and mothball the bookmobile in 2012.