Monthly Archives: June 2012
by Matthew Robert
Most of you who have been paying any attention in recent years know Stu “Dr. Gonzo” Esty, the giant of a man who cuts a big figure on the local scene, whether it’s his bigger-than-life personality, his landslide-inducing laugh, his big stature, or his big hands pounding out big bluesy, gospel-tinged tunes on the piano backed by his big, big voice, which you could hear in his ubiquitous appearances at any local club with an upright or a stage, or at his former lair, Dr. Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments, where he holds down his straight job (ha!) conjuring up mustards and relishes and other ungodly concoctions meant to test your molecular fortitude, all the while bringing big-time cheer to the “hysterical courthouse district.”
Expect big-time energy and funky, up-tempo boogie music in the vein of Little Feat and Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen,” as Esty’s Roadkill Orchestra holds a CD-release party for its latest effort, “The ‘B’ Set from High Atop the Secret Underground Laboratory,” on Saturday, June 16, at Ralph’s.
The show will also feature Providence’s Kevin Williams and the Invisible Orphans (introspective power rock) and Worcester’s What (loose-limbed, Dead-inspired rock), all emceed by Worcester’s own comedian/late-night host, Flip McClane (Shaun Connolly).
“I’m hoping that folks can make a conscious decision to just put [all their cares] aside for even an hour or two,” says Esty. “Music is a powerful medium and everyone needs a little downtime or escape from the norm. Consider us as a sonic shower or bath that you can use to wash away some woes. Lather, rinse, repeat.”
The new CD finds the band in its best form to date, with a great, complementary lineup, featuring Esty on piano and vocals; Austin Beliveau on drums; James Bennett on saxophone; Jerry Maday on bass; and Darren Pinto on guitar; and with a slew of material, some from Esty’s recent creative hot streak, and some dating back to the ’70s and ’80s.
“I’m currently going through an incredible creative spurt,” Esty says. “I don’t know who I’m channeling, but I’m writing more lyrics than I can shake a stick at – on the back of Dunkin’ Donuts bags, bits and pieces of trash….I’m just writing lyrics all over the place.”
The new album, Esty says, was helped along considerably by his long-running “Turd (third) Thursdays Songwriting Challenge, a monthly event Stu has hosted at Dr. Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments storefront for years. This was a place where local musicians could try out material composed along a series of alternating themes and guidelines.
“These events were a lot of fun (and well attended) and a lot of good music came about because of the event, mostly because we had a deadline,” Esty says.
“The first song on this CD, ‘Norton 850,’ was actually a product of two months’ worth of challenges. The first was to write about a moment in your life where an experience changed your life’s path or direction (the summer of ’68 when I first hear the rumble of an English two-cylinder bike). Found that I had the idea but the story and hook just did not reveal itself to me in the time frame. The next month’s challenge was where the tune’s hook and feel came from.”
“Norton 850” is a good representation of Gonzo and RKO’s work: rootsy and rocking with a narrative teeming with humor and shades of meaning, hidden beneath progressive blues-rock rhythms, blistering lead guitar and jazzy sax lines.
“My intention is to write songs that move me but have a broader message that will resonate outside of this moment and have a story line or hook that will appeal to a larger audience,” says Esty. “The tune should move you physically and emotionally and might even have you humming it in quiet moments. I make an attempt to incorporate different levels of meaning into the lyrics, so that if you have the time and inclination, you can read into the tune and enjoy it on another plane.”
RKO plans to work more of the new CD’s material into the current lineup for its slew of upcoming shows, which includes its usual spot at the annual Paulie’s NOLA Fest, in Worcester, in June, and its monthly second Saturday show at Vincent’s. They also hope to sneak in some recording dates.
“We have an aggressive June schedule—you can spend the summer following us in your VW bus,” says Esty. “And we’re planning on capturing two or three of the new tunes, hopefully again with Roger [Lavallee, of Tremolo Lounge Studios, where “The ‘B’ Set” was recorded], and releasing them as singles over the summer.”
Check out the RKO CD-release party on June 16 at Ralph’s Diner (95 Prescott St., Worcester, ralphsrockdiner.com), become a fan of the band at Reverb Nation (reverbnation.com/theroadkillorchestra), and pick up a copy of the new CD at an upcoming show, at Dr. Gonzo’s Uncommon Condiments (at its new location at 90 May St., Worcester), or online at music retailers like CD Baby, Amazon, Spotify, Rhapsody or Googleplay.
by Matt Robert
New arrivals to Worcester are quick to notice the potential of this city, held afloat by a small but devoted group of activists, who work tirelessly to provide fun, equity and culture. Paul “Paulie” Collyer is one of them; though, if you ask him, he’s just having a party and promoting the things that he loves.
Kick off the summer of 2012 with a taste of New Orleans in the up-and-coming neighborhood of Piedmont, west of Park Avenue on Chandler Street in Worcester, at the 5th annual Paulie’s NOLA Festival, on June 22, 23, and 24. This year’s bill features New Orleans heavyweights Sonny Landreth, Tab Benoit, Johnny Sansone, Mem Shannon, Eric Lindell, and Anders Osborne; rising talents, like The Royal Southern Brotherhood; and local and regional acts, like Boston’s Soul of a Man; Connecticut’s Shaka and the Soul Shaker; and Worcester’s Roadkill Orchestra, as well as food by Sweet T’s Southern Kitchen and Vinnie’s Crawfish Shack, and beers by Harpoon.
“I got world class musicians in my back yard and hundreds and hundreds of folks having a good time each year,” says Collyer. “It beats picking up trash or raking leaves.”
The idea came to Collyer at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. “My first one,” Collyer says. “I had only planned to catch Van Morrison… .I didn’t miss a minute of the festival over three days and said to [my friends] ‘I could do this!’”
And so he did, beginning humbly with a free show in 2008. “Two bands: Hurricane Horns and Chris Fitz [who also played a great set in 2011], four kegs of Harpoon IPA and buckets of gumbo and Jambalaya from One Love Café,” says Collyer. “My best pal of 30 years, Jimmy DiSanto, and I served the beer and food. It was free, and 200-plus showed up.”
Collyer liked the result, and he did it again in 2009. “We bumped up to six bands and started charging $15. We drew new folks,” he says. “In 2011, we sold about 1,400 tickets [over two days, despite heavy rain on Saturday night], and I hope to sell 2,000 this year.”
The festival is held in an unlikely spot: the sand driveway behind John and Sons II deli, but Collyer doesn’t skimp on providing a great experience. He brings in professional sound engineers and enough gear to outfit side-by-side stages that allow for leap-frogging the band setups and near-continuous music.
As for the unlikely location of the festival, it’s all part of Collyer’s larger vision for the event, which, as it turns out, isn’t all fun and games. “My festival crew has chosen to host the festival in the part of the city that needs a lot of uplifting and support, and a part of the city that doesn’t always get its fair shake as a vibrant, valued segment of the Worcester community. We have made an effort to bring in new fresh music to the city from Louisiana, as well as support the local Worcester music scene and broader New England music scene.”
“I am a hardcore city guy who likes to have fun in the city. Green grass is for cows not the blues and jazz!” he says.
Worcester isn’t a favorite tour stop for most traveling acts, but that hasn’t deterred Collyer. “I start bidding early for them [and] am aggressive in my bid,” he says. His business philosophy, furthermore, is sound. “We have treated the musicians well. We have a nice festival and the Louisiana musicians have acknowledged this and have been supportive of what we are doing in the Village of Piedmont. The Gulf Coast went through a lot the past seven years, and so has my neighborhood the past 30 years — there is some synergy there. Rebirth requires a lot of help and these cats all know about that.”
Asked about Worcester’s response to the festival, Collyer is fair and optimistic. “The majority of the crowds have been from out of town,” he says. “But I have a hardcore group of Worcester locals involved in the festival planning who dig the New Orleans scene, and this group is getting bigger.” In fact, last year, upon word that legendary guitarist Tab Benoit had been acquired for the festival, a major buzz was generated, and people attended the festival from Boston, upstate New York, and even New Orleans; the upstate New Yorker telling me, “I go wherever Tab goes!”
“Phish,” he reminds me, “was in town last week and not everyone in the DCU Center was from Worcester. I dig being able to draw folks in from elsewhere. New blood is good in a community, and it adds more economic bang.”
In the end, Collyer is just “thank[ful] to those who have been supportive over the past four years,” and adds, “to those who are just hearing about the festival for the fi rst time, give us a try, I don’t think you will be disappointed.”
Paulie’s NOLA Festival, June 22, 23 and 24, 2012, Keystone Plaza Urban Fairgrounds 221 Chandler St., Worcester, baevents.com/pauliesnolabluesandjazzfestival.
by Matthew Robert
When press releases for the Worcester Public Library Bookmobile began appearing this spring, spreading the news that “Libby the Library Express,” as she was named by Worcester Public School students, would roll out soon after, the catch phrase was, “this is not your mother’s bookmobile,” an oft-employed device meant to invest the potentially geeky, dated image with the allure of reinvention, rebellion, and, even, danger. This would not be the old mailbox-turned-on-its-side-with-wheels that genially roamed Worcester’s neighborhoods of yore (between 1940 and the early 1990s), staffed by severe old maids, gray hair pulled tight into a bun, who’d shush you and slap your hand away lest you should touch one of the books.
This newfangled state-of-the-art bus – a veritable earthbound space station – would roll into your neighborhood, straight out of “Pimped,” and hipsters, like Johnny Depp as Willie Wonka, would welcome you aboard into a space you once glimpsed when you peaked into your older brother’s room as a child, as “Are You Experienced” played amid clouds of smoke and the glow of black-light posters.
Would Libby really be new and cool enough to amuse and attract kids of today, and, perhaps, perplex their moms? Could it reach the disenfranchised and bring them back into the fold, making them positive forces in the ongoing war against ignorance and want? Could it extend loving arms around the homebound, providing them with an essential link to society and community and knowledge? Could it be one small step in a potential great leap forward toward the elusive ideals of Dickens and John Maynard Keynes, away from greed and hoarding that some claim has created unprecedented wealth concentration and disparity?
THE BUS CAME BY AND I GOT ON
(PHOTO: Libby open for business near Elm Park in Worcester. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
I boarded the magic bus on its second day in operation – Tuesday, June 5 – when it stopped in front of Thorndyke School, off of Burncoat Street in Worcester, its large awning suggesting “open for business.” The bus, a rival to neither the Batmobile (’60s or modern) nor even the Munster Koach for cool, evoked a food truck – albeit a visually conservative one. It wasn’t the Merry Prankster’s day-glo-painted “Further” bus, but merely a long khaki modified school bus bedecked with a Harvey Ball smiley face and a couple of air conditioning units on the roof.
Sheepishly I knocked, and sheepishly they answered, mobile librarians Mark Lindberg and Joe Blake. Blake and I talked a bit as a harried Lindberg, in bangs and James Joyce horn-rimmed glasses, leapt in and out of the vehicle – like a lysergic Ken Kesey before an acid test – trying to work out wireless issues. As yet, there weren’t any kids lined up, and both seemed to be experiencing preshow jitters. Blake sat aside the driver’s seat, where, traditionally, the steps to board and unboard the bus would be. Now, however, like the historically coveted rear seat of the bus, it had been transformed into a checkout station with a laptop computer and barcode scanner.
“It’s exciting to be a part of,” said Blake, a new hire to the Worcester Public Library and a former commercial fisherman from Alaska. “We’ve gotten great response!”
Void of patrons, the bus felt small and narrow, and like little more than a new room at a motel: blonde wood shelving, black raspberry wall-to-wall carpeting, and fluorescent tube lighting. I wondered whether this décor could possibly excite today’s kids, who, conventional wisdom had it, needed the bells and whistles of Disney and Chuck E. Cheese, the near-strobe activity of Halo or Nickelodeon programming.
Perhaps due to the novelty of the bus or his position at the library, Blake had a subdued, intense glow when he spoke about the bus, its mission, and about the thrill of “seeing kids’ faces light up at finding the right book.”
(PHOTO: Children look through books inside the bookmobile. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
Soon, of course, a few customers climbed aboard, nervous-like, taking careful steps, maintaining quiet voices and keeping their hands to themselves. School was out and these were preschool kids being chaperoned by grandparents, who, perhaps, were sitting while moms and dads worked.
This may not be your mother’s bookmobile, but it seemed a welcome sight that evoked a bit of nostalgia for the moms and grandmoms, who had memories of the original bookmobiles. Ann Marie, a Thorndyke library volunteer, came aboard with her grandchildren in tow, and spoke of memories of bringing her own children to the bookmobile. Another grandmother shared similar memories of bringing her children to Wawecus School up the street for bookmobile visits in the early 1980s. Her son is now 44 years old, and here was her grandchild, third-grader Olivia, snatching up copies of “The Magic Tree House” series and signing up for her first library card.
Moments later, Eric, 8, produced a library card that he proudly declared to have had for two years, and checked out copies of “The Lightning Thief,” “Because of Winn-Dixie,” a Big Nate comic strip book, and DVDs of Pokemon and The Muppets.
“There are potential MLKs [Martin Luther King Jr.’s] living in environs that don’t have access,” Blake said about the Library Express’s mission. “This could give them a whole new direction.” Circumstances, he said, had given his life a new direction once, too, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground near his home, and he had to leave to seek fishing work. “You never know what’s going on in these young brains,” he says. “These could be people who make a great impact on society.”
HAVE MERCY! BEEN WAITING FOR THE BUS ALL DAY.
According to the American Library Association, the bookmobile origins in America begin in 1905 in Washington County, Maryland, with Mary Lemist Titcomb, the first librarian at the Washington County Free Library, in her attempt to reach detached communities in the largely rural county by distributing materials to “general stores, post offices, and other locations throughout the county via the library’s wagon.” Washington County had a motorized bookmobile by 1912, offering “expanded…rural service to stops at seniorcitizen centers, schools, and other locations.”
Today’s vision is the same, according to Mark Contois, the outgoing director of the Worcester Public Library, who says that “the goal is to reach the less mobile in society, who may be prevented from visiting a traditional, bricks and mortar library by economics or even geography – separated by highways” and other tangible and intangible obstacles, and, ultimately, to “enhance the quality of life for Worcester residents,” according to Mayor Joe Petty.
The burgeoning social government of FDR’s New Deal, expressed through the economic principles of John Maynard Keynes, drastically expanded the social services of the U.S. government. Among the offerings were bookmobiles, which were commonly funded as part of municipal budgets, peaking after World War II, when as many as 2,000 such vehicles operated nationwide.
Worcester’s first bookmobile, according to the Worcester Public Library website, “launched on Monday, November 18, 1940, under the leadership of head librarian Emerson Greenway…intended, in part, to provide service to areas of the city that were not in easy reach of the main library or one of its branches.” Though wildly popular and successful (2,500 of the 2,700 stocked volumes were checked out the first week, and, in 1951, 150,000 books were circulated), the traveling library branch nearly met its doom during the war, but was saved by women volunteers. The subsequent decades, despite the universal popularity of bookmobiles, saw the decline of municipal budgets, and Proposition 2-1/2 in the 1980s effectively killed the bookmobile.
Today’s reemergence of bookmobile services is not, however, the recommitment to Keynesian values that broadly supported social spending years ago. Today’s re-imagination of social services usually involves private partnerships. And that’s where Libby’s story begins, with a collaboration between the city of Worcester, the Worcester Public Library and the College of the Holy Cross.
Director of government and community relations at the College of the Holy Cross, Edward Augustus, says that since “most bookmobiles are supported out of a municipal budget or…[the] library budget,” when faced with “the typical kind of up-and-down budget years that you have in municipal government” when cities face cuts to vital staff, like “police or fire or classroom teachers…things like bookmobiles might be seen…as something that has to be given up.”
(PHOTO: Libby moving on Main Street in Worcester. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
Augustus says that this partnership between the city, the Worcester Public Library Board of Directors and College of the Holy Cross, which has pledged $80,000 annually for five years to support maintenance, fuel, technology and staff, will ensure that Libby is around for a long time.
“Now you’ve got an outside source or stream of funding that makes sure that the costs of operating the bookmobile are provided for,” he says. “I really don’t see a situation where we wouldn’t want to continue this. I think our working assumption is that we’d all be interested in keeping this thing going for the foreseeable future.”
YOU’RE EITHER ON THE BUS OR OFF THE BUS
Obviously efforts to increase literacy and foster enfranchisement fall somewhere below staffing firefighters, police officers or classroom teachers on one’s priority list, but most at least recognize it as a noble experiment, a generous gesture, or even a practical idea. By nature, library employees and educators embrace the goals zealously; targeted citizens welcome the service, and, even business owners value its pragmatic workforce and economical implications.
(PHOTO: Mike O’Brien at the dedication ceremony. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
“More than 10,000 people each week visit the Main Library to use its computers and Internet access,” City Manager, Mike O’Brien says, adding that “the Library Express is a means for the library to reach out to neighborhoods to make services, including technology, more accessible to our citizens. Access to technology,” he says, “remains one of the most critical needs of city residents.”
“We’re in a knowledge-based world,” says Augustus. “And so the idea that we’re helping to facilitate the access to knowledge and information…I think it’s good for the economy, it’s good for the community, it’s good for the quality of life.”
The idea, says Contois, is that “a reading city is a vibrant, literate city, which improves the quality of life for all who live there.” He believes that “we all benefit directly or indirectly from these community outreach efforts,” and hopes that, “in time, these individuals will make it to the downtown library.”
Mayor Joe Petty says that the Library Express is not just for kids, but for everybody. “Young and old, and everyone in between, there is something for all residents on the Library Express. I know many of our older residents struggle sometimes to get down to the library and the Library Express is going to areas where older residents can once again enjoy books, music and DVDs from the library.” The bottom line, says O’Brien, is that “libraries are America’s great information equalizers – the only place people of all ages and backgrounds can find and freely use such a diversity of resources.” The Library Express, then, he says, is merely “an extension of our libraries, brings these services where libraries can’t go.”
Drivers/librarians Blake and Lindberg say that, while patrons of the bus, of course, would prefer their own neighborhood library branch, the Library Express, with its collection of books and DVDs and hi-tech gizmos, “is a branch library.”
RIGHT ON! THAT BUS DONE GOT ME BACK!
Augustus believes that the benefits of spreading literacy extend to the intangible and philosophical, as well. “Our fate is completely connected to the fate of Worcester. We have 1,100 people who work here at Holy Cross; a huge number of them live in the city of Worcester. So, this is their city,” he says. “They’re going back into Worcester’s neighborhoods at night. They’re raising their families here – they’re raising their kids here, their grandchildren here.”
This fate includes students at Holy Cross, as well. “Our students,” says Augustus, “many of them stay here after they go to school. They get connected, in some way or another, and decide to make their life here. So, this is an investment in making sure of that quality of life, as well.”
Then, of course, is the reward of a good deed done. “It makes us feel really good about real-life people who, whether they’ve got mobility issues, or some kind of a physical handicap or limitation that doesn’t allow them the kind of easy access to the main library or to one of the two branch libraries – the idea that this can come through their neighborhood, the building they’re living in, or whatever – it’s just a great thing,” Augustus says.
CAN I BUY YOUR MAGIC BUS?
Despite universal agreement about its many virtues, the issue of disbursing dollars to fund it, amid a climate of sentiments of the evils of spending other people’s money, becomes much more complicated. Both Contois and Augustus spoke of the often difficult circumstances that prohibit more success stories; and of the fortuitous coincidences that brought this bus out of years of storage on Route 20.
“Everybody supports the notion of a bookmobile,” says Contois, “but it took a well-timed coordination of these forces to make it happen.”
“In 2006,” says O’Brien, “the City of Worcester purchased a functioning bookmobile from the City of Fitchburg in hopes of working with private sponsors and donors to assist in its operation.” Though, according to Augustus, “it kind of mothballed for the last four or five years down on Route 20.” Meanwhile, says O’Brien, “the Worcester Public Library Foundation initiated conversations with business leaders, corporations, colleges and others to assist in its restoration. The foundation had approached [Holy Cross] on a collaboration that would leverage its strengths in academia and education with the library‘s vision to move toward a 21st century, technology-driven, interactive resource. Holy Cross responded positively to the idea and pledged its support of the service.”
“I actually served as a member of the library foundation board in the course of our work on the board trying to find a source of funding for the bookmobile,” says Augustus. “And it was one of the goals of the library,” he says, “to find a funding stream that would allow it to be kind of rehabbed and then have the operational costs replaced so we could put it back on the road.”
Contois credits “the arrival of [Rev. Philip L.] Boroughs and Ed Augustus at Holy Cross, and the present city manager,” who, he says, “all supported the idea.” Augustus seconds Contois’ notion, but believes that the outgoing president shares the credit. “Our outgoing president, Father McFarland, gave us permission to pursue it,” he says. “And Father Boroughs, the new president, coming in, really embraced the whole notion of it, and he was president when we actually inked the deal.”
“I’m relatively new to my job as director of government and community relations here,” says Augustus, “and when I saw that opportunity and the mission of Holy Cross, in terms of education and the potential benefit of something like the bookmobile, it just seemed like it was a natural fit and a natural opportunity for the college to give back something to the city.”
“We got the ball rolling, just got the conversation underway and the librarian and the city manager just kind of worked the details out.”
Augustus dismisses claims that Holy Cross’s donation is little more than a token gesture; a product of PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) designed to ward off proponents of taxing our colleges and other nonprofits.
“It’s important to remember that Holy Cross has a longstanding and ongoing relationship with the city,” says Augustus. “We give over a million dollars of scholarships to Worcester [Public Schools] students to attend Holy Cross every year. We participate in the Wheels to Water program. Plus, we made a $10,000 contribution to the city to help pay for the costs of getting kids from different parks and neighborhood centers here to the college. We host, at the request of the city, the Worcester Tornadoes.”
“There’s just a huge number of programs that we have ongoing with the city. We’re probably in 25-plus schools doing tutoring, mentoring and student teachers. We have work-study students who are in everything from Abby’s House to the Boys & Girls Clubs to the mayor’s office to – just name a community-based organization. We fully staff the South Worcester Neighborhood Center’s summer camp for kids. It’s all Holy Cross students that Holy Cross pays.”
These programs, he’s quick to note, are not limited to Holy Cross, either. “I know every single college in the city has all sorts of really interesting subsidy budgets with the city. Some of them are focused on their immediate neighborhoods, and some of them are focused on aspects of their college’s focus that might be unique.”
EVERY DAY I GET IN THE QUEUE
I rejoined Blake and Lindberg the following week at an afternoon stop at the Guild of St. Agnes after-school childcare center, on Grove Street, a non-profit with goals kindred to the public library. According to teacher Cheryl Stall, the students who attend the center represent a wide range of educational and economic levels, from city schools like McGrath, Norrback Avenue, Flagg Street, May Street, and Abby Kelley Foster. Stall says the Bookmobile is a great fit for the center’s aims, “especially for summer reading,” as, she believes there are “many parents who couldn’t afford to buy the books” or provide transportation to the main branch. Several kids, in fact, were picking up books for required summer reading.
(PHOTO: Patrons visit the bookmobile. Steven King/Worcester Mag)
The week before, Blake and Lindberg had been vaguely apologetic about the lack of crowds, and forecasted better turnout as word of the Library Express got around (ads were placed in the Telegram, on the Worcester Public Library website, and even in the Booth Apartments newsletter) and schools got out, much the way farmers might stand around predicting (or hoping to predict) the rain.
In the meantime, they waxed enthusiastic about places they’d been and the crowds there. Their best responses had been, they said, at senior towers, assisted-living facilities and low-income housing projects, where elderly folks who hadn’t been to the library in years, were beckoned by their pied piping, joyfully acquired books; and many, unable simply for lack of internet service, merely checked their email.
Blake estimated that during the first week they had loaned “hundreds of books” (one hundred at a single stop!) and issued 50 to 75 library cards.
All the technology kinks had been worked out and now, Lindberg says, it will be “rare to have technology issues,” which, as I would observe, made checking out books and dealing with library cards and accounts much easier.
They had new concerns, though. Despite excellent turnouts at Washington Heights, off of Mill Street, and The Fairways across from Worcester Country Club on East Mountain Street – where they experienced great volume and a wide variety of patrons (“Toddlers to adults,” Lindberg says) – today’s stop at Guild of St. Agnes, would be their biggest yet: six classrooms’ worth of kids.
Lindberg and Blake were beginning to develop confidence about what they could handle. Blake estimates that he and Lindberg could service about “30 customers an hour” under normal conditions, and as much as “100 an hour” if they were particularly “systematic.” Neither seemed, however, particularly interested in rigid systems or about ushering people in and out at the expense of a good experience, which seemed their main interest. I asked if kids could lie around on the carpet and read a book. They said, “Suuure!” I asked whether they were concerned that the books might walk away, never to return, whether they might simply be feeding books into the void. Blake said, “We’d rather not, but that’s part of the risk. These kids are more important than books and paper.”
Then, the first class arrived – the oldest kids. They stepped aboard, eyes wide, looking around corners, like they’d entered a house they believed to be haunted. Then, they saw the four iPads and tablets, and loosened up.
“Can we use these?” they asked. Lindberg and Blake, like indulgent grandparents, said what they always said: “Suuure!” And the kids were off. The tablets were instant ice breakers. Two boys excitedly spied two full-sized touch-screen computers. Within seconds, they had Microsoft Paint up and were coloring motorcycles. It was like Christmas morning, but I wondered whether the purpose was to put kids in front of more shiny facile technological activities, while the books sat expectantly like exiles on the Island of Misfit Toys. Within a few moments, though, the kids sprung from the tablets and started overtly savoring the books, too.
“Oooh, look! ‘Twilight!’” cried one.
“‘Hunger Games,’” cried another.
Fourth grader, Jessica Flood, who located solitaire on the iPad in a nanosecond and began playing, seemed pumped up about the books, too. She found the Bookmobile “fascinating” and “cool,” because it had so many “portable electronics,” yet still “looks like a library.” A self-described geek, she grabbed copies of “Dork Diary” and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” with her library card, which she says she uses at frequent visits to the downtown library.
A toddler climbed aboard and laughed at Blake, amazed, saying, “You work in a truck! That’s funny!” She couldn’t wait to climb off and “show Gramma” her books. Another, walking past the bus with her mom, provided a happy, drawn out, “That’s awesome!”
Several kids reported being unable to go to the bricks-and-mortar branches of the library, while others, like Jessica, said they went often. Several had library cards, though many had lost theirs, and others had never had one. It didn’t matter, though. Lindberg and Blake were on a crusade of almost missionary zeal to put cards in their hands and books in their arms, helping the children to fill out applications, locating accounts online, or renewing expired cards. These were eager floor salesman doing whatever it took to close the deal. There were lots of smiles, though not the insincere types found on sales floors.
In the process, parents and kids learned all about book lending. This, Lindberg and Blake repeatedly explained, was just another branch of the library; books could be accessed by computer from any library in the C/W MARS system, and even delivered to the monthly stops; books could be returned to any library branch; how many items could be taken at a time; and such.
The kids, meanwhile, perused the shelves like sophisticated shoppers, checking out copies of books like “Stink,” and “High School Musical 2.” As the classes moved progressively from oldest to youngest, the kids grew smaller, but the enthusiasm and armloads of books stayed the same, until they appeared all but hidden behind their finds, like caricatures of college coeds.
Kindergartener, Stephanie Muriuki, proudly stepped up to the counter and deposited a significant stack of books, including two from the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series. She said that she had read all of the others, but that she “needed to read these.” Blake accessed her account, checked out the books, and deposited them into a bag, which she carried off with the air of a seasoned shopper, library card held high like a credit card as she bounded down the steps.
To discover the next stop of Libby’s route, visit worcpublib.org/libraryexpress.