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Boxmobile — The Bookmobile Alternative

by Melanie A. Lyttle and Shawn D. Walsh on November 5, 2015

Many libraries have a bookmobile, but if you can’t afford a bookmobile for any number of reasons, there is an alternative: a boxmobile. All right, in our case it’s a rolling suitcase, but boxmobile sounds cooler! Powered by a laptop, mobile hot spot, scanner, printer, and RFID pad, all that we need to perform circulation off-site is contained in a rolling suitcase. You can do this too. We’ve learned a few things in the two summers we’ve been doing this. If you want to circulate materials off-site or are interested in doing the “pop-up library” that many libraries are doing, this can give you some guidance.

Complete a site survey: Check out the places you’re planning to go before you “go” there. That is the most important piece of advice we can offer. We were fortunate to have two summer day camps in the community who wanted to integrate borrowing library books into their summer camp experiences. However, the first year we did it, we occasionally had some trouble getting a 3G signal with our hot spot. There were signal issues we hadn’t accounted for both inside and outside the buildings. We hadn’t accounted for one site’s Wi-Fi and the VPN connection we needed to use not working together due to being blocked by the site’s wireless network. This year, we went to every site (now grown to three different locations) to test everything thoroughly before our first “real” visit. As a result, we knew where to be and what to do to make things run more smoothly.

Find a power source: Do you have electricity where you are going? In this current iteration of the boxmobile we need electricity. We do not bring a generator with us. (Ask a bookmobile driver about generators sometime for an honest opinion of them.) You want to check exactly where you are going to be at any location you plan to visit to make sure you have an electric hook-up. Also, in your suitcase, put a long heavy duty (contractor grade) extension cord. You never know when you’re going to need it.

Check the weather forecast: If you’re outside, will your equipment be in the sun? Even if you have a tent or are in the shade, is it 90 degrees and 90% humidity? We learned this year that temperature and humidity can greatly affect how all the parts of the boxmobile work. Make sure you are prepared to do off-line circulation if things don’t work properly. Remember even in your library buildings sometimes you have to use off-line circulation when something quirky happens.

Finally, more specifics about the boxmobile: You need a laptop, for sure. Your IT department/person should be able to find one that will handle running your ILS. You need a scanner, RFID pad, or both. We are using RFID but most of the other libraries in our consortium use strictly barcodes. So we need both to circulate our materials. You could probably get away without a receipt printer, but we like having it so people remember when their books are due. You need to put your equipment in something. We had a rolling suitcase available. You could do a rolling cabbage case or some other container to hold your stuff. You do need a mobile hot spot. We have used a pay-as-you-go service because we currently use our boxmobile mostly in the summer. Regardless, you need to make sure you have reliable internet access that ties to your ILS. Finally you need a good surge protector. It will handle the items that need power and it’s also one cord to plug into the extension cord we mentioned earlier.

Good luck with your boxmobile. We hope you like yours as much as we like ours.

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