After more than 42 years of service, the Des Plaines Public Library's bookmobile will quietly fade into the pages of history this weekend.
The mobile library is making its final rounds this week to area schools, parks and community centers. The service will be discontinued after Saturday, Dec. 17, without much fanfare leaving a bittersweet feeling in the hearts of many patrons and library staff members alike.
"I'm not at all happy about it," said Tim Kohmstedt, who accompanied his 8-year-old nephew, Cole Curran, to the library during a stop earlier this week at Devonshire School in Des Plaines.
Kohmstedt said he started a Facebook petition to try to save the bookmobile from being cut, but it didn't go anywhere.
"It's sad to see them go. All these years I've been coming here," he said.
The bookmobile has been a recognizable presence in Des Plaines neighborhoods since June 19, 1969. The service was started on a two-week rotation, initially making stops in 18 neighborhoods. Today, the 36-foot-long mobile library makes about 40 stops and carries a collection of roughly 14,000 items, including books, magazines, DVDs, videos, CDs, and audiobooks.
It 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. So far in 2011, the bookmobile's circulation is at 40,000.
Susan Farid, library head of circulation services, said the bookmobile allowed for more personal interaction with patrons often lost with the advent of new technologies and self checkout machines at the main library.
"You get to know people a little bit better than you do at the main library," Farid said. "It started getting really sad last week when you realized you are not going to be coming back again."
Farid said students at one school made cards and prepared baskets of cookies for the bookmobile staff members, and sang holiday songs as a farewell gesture.
"It was so sweet. I'm happy for all that we were able to accomplish," Farid said. "You see people that really appreciate the service. Everybody kind of has their own unique reason why they are using the bookmobile."
Convenience is the primary reason for many patrons as it's harder for some people to get to the main library in downtown, she added.
Fifty-nine patrons are presently enrolled in the library's homebound program, which uses a minivan to visit people in their homes. Officials have discussed possibly expanding the homebound service to make up for the loss of the bookmobile.
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 in Libertyville, Palatine, Warren-Newport in Gurnee, and Waukegan.
The decision to eliminate the service in Des Plaines was purely financial due to the condition of the nearly 16-year-old bus, Library Director Holly Sorensen said.
It costs Des Plaines $132,660 annually -- roughly 2 percent of the total library budget -- to operate the mobile library.
Officials spent $6,750 to rebuild the bookmobile's transmission this year. It could cost roughly $20,000 to put in a new engine -- more than the estimated $15,000 value of the bus itself.
Library officials decided earlier this year it would be more prudent to end the service rather than spend thousands of dollars repairing the bookmobile, or about $350,000 replacing it.
"To buy a new one was just not fiscally responsible," Sorensen said. "There's no way you could justify that kind of cost."
Library officials have begun to market the main library and its services more, highlighting ways of getting to downtown library, 1501 Ellinwood St., through biking, walking and bus service. The library is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
As for the bookmobile's retirement, officials said they didn't want to mark the occasion as its three part-time staff members are being laid off.
"It's a bittersweet ending," Sorensen said. "Times change and we're trying to stay relevant with our community. … We are confident that we can continue to serve people that used the mobile library with the same kind of great customer service that they have become accustomed to."