In nearly 15 years of service, the Cook Memorial Public Library District's bookmobile has traveled more than 83,000 miles through central Lake County on its mission to bring people books and other materials.

And after all those miles -- and thousands of visitors -- officials with the Libertyville-based district say it's time to start the research for an eventual replacement.

Modern bookmobiles generally have a 20-year life span, and that mark is approaching.

"The bookmobile is still running and will be for a while," said Brooke Bahnsen, who manages the Aspen Drive Library in Vernon Hills and the district's outreach services. "But it is good to start thinking early."

A busy bookmobile

Bookmobiles are a library industry tradition, but not every suburban library has one. In addition to Cook Memorial, library systems based in Arlington Heights, Aurora, Elgin, Gurnee and St. Charles are among those that do.

Cook Memorial's bookmobile is a custom-designed Thomas Built Bus that's been in service since October 2003. The roughly 35-foot-long, 13-ton rig hauls around fiction and nonfiction books for patrons of all ages, as well as DVDs, CDs, magazines, video games and audiobooks. Materials can be found in English and Spanish.

About 7,500 items can fit on shelves that line the inside of the vehicle and in drawers that slide out for easy browsing.

Staffers use laptop computers to check out and check in materials, reserve items for patrons and do quick research.

During a typical week, the vehicle visits nine neighborhoods in Vernon Hills and Mundelein, as well as preschools and schools throughout the district and the Lambs Farm facility for people with developmental disabilities in Green Oaks.

"A typical day may have three to four stops in the morning and three stops in the evening," Bahnsen said.

Cook Memorial patrons using the bookmobile or other outreach services, such as a delivery program for homebound people, checked out more than 91,000 items during the 2018 fiscal year, Bahnsen said. That's nearly 7 percent of the district's overall circulation.

Who uses it?

Some people visit the bookmobile because they live in one-vehicle families and can't drive to a brick-and-mortar library, bookmobile associate Linda Weagley said. Others prefer the convenience of the neighborhood deliveries.

And then there are patrons like Ashley Eckhart, a teacher with Little Learners Childcare in Vernon Hills. She loves taking her young students aboard Cook Memorial's bookmobile when it stops at the Lakeview Fitness Center, where the child-care program is based.

The kids pick specially prepared books out of a green bin, take seats on pint-size ledges and read about baseball, puppies, the faces babies make and countless other subjects.

"We can't go to the library, but the library can come to us," Eckhart said. "And we get to experience that library atmosphere."

No timeline yet

The bookmobile isn't ready for retirement yet -- Bahnsen predicted replacement is "several more years away."

But officials are starting their research now so they're set when that time comes.

"Preparing information on the variety of replacement options now helps the library be more equipped to make a decision when the costs of repairing the current bookmobile become impractical," Bahnsen said.

A timeline for replacement hasn't yet been set.

The library board bought the current bookmobile for $175,000 in 2003. Officials don't know how much a new bookmobile will cost. Prices vary greatly, from $75,000 to $300,000, Bahnsen said.

Although the bookmobile needs some repairs, Weagley is happy with its performance.

"For the driving we do, we ask a lot of it -- and it chugs along pretty good," she said.