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updated: 7/26/2011 6:32 PM

Des Plaines Library looks to market itself

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Des Plaines Public Library officials recently discussed ideas to market the library and its services better in an attempt make up for discontinuing the popular bookmobile service.

Officials discussed possibly expanding the library's homebound service to make up for the loss of the bookmobile. They also are planning to launch a marketing campaign highlighting ways of getting to the downtown library, 1501 Ellinwood St., through biking, walking and bus service.

In May, the library board decided to mothball the aging bookmobile at the end of the year rather than spend thousands of dollars repairing it, or about $300,000 replacing it.

The bookmobile's final run is scheduled Dec. 17.

"The only thing that's really going to stop is the bus showing up in your neighborhood," Library Director Holly Sorensen said. "I think that it's a great service, but it's time has come. For the amount of use it gets, it's hard to justify that kind of cost."

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.

For now, the 14-year-old vehicle's engine is chugging along; however, it could break down anytime.

Library officials spent $6,750 to rebuild the bookmobile's transmission. It could cost roughly $20,000 to put in a new engine, which is more than the value of the bus itself, Sorensen said.

"We'll try to sell it," Sorensen said, adding the bookmobile could fetch roughly $15,000 if the engine holds up.

Library officials had hoped private donations would come through to help save the bookmobile, but nothing materialized.

Sorensen said she solicited the help of Des Plaines Elementary District 62 whose school board "graciously declined" since the district is in the midst of a massive renovation project involving upgrading many of its buildings, including school libraries.

Many North suburban libraries, including Indian Trails, have opted to do away with bookmobiles in tough economic times. Today, bookmobiles can be found only in a few libraries -- Arlington Heights, Aurora, Cook Memorial, Palatine, Warren-Newport and Waukegan.

Des Plaines' bookmobile is used mainly by youth, who make up 65 percent of checkouts. Its circulation had dropped from 51,612 in 2009 to 48,333 in 2010, while the main library's remained unchanged at roughly 1.2 million for both years.

The patrons who likely will miss the bookmobile the most are preschoolers who are in awe when they "step on that bus for the first time," Sorensen said.

Library liaisons will maintain a presence in preschools and elementary schools, while a 14-year-old library minivan service will continue to make monthly stops at local assisted living facilities. The van service also delivers books to roughly 20 homebound library patrons.

The bookmobile's collection will be absorbed back into the library or given to the library's "Friends" group for its fundraising book sales, Sorensen said.