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Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

Dayton's bookmobile 'Bertha' delivers 12,000 books to young readers, bringing joy and literacy

Camee Hart, Head of Outreach Services and Christian Brewington, Children's Librarian.
Jim Khale
Camee Hart, Head of Outreach Services and Christian Brewington, Children's Librarian.

Dayton Metro library is celebrating a century of bookmobile service this year. Early Dayton Library Director, Electra C. Doren, wanted to get books into the hands of people. She bought a Ford Truck and added shelves and created the first “bookmobile” to serve the state. We asked Jim Kahle to take a ride for Culture Couch.

Looking for a ride on a bookmobile, I called the Dayton Metro Library. They invited me to the undisclosed location south of the city where the librarians select the books for the day. Then, they are loaded into the fleet of three home delivery vans, a pop-up library box truck and one beloved old bookmobile. I followed their directions, found the large nondescript building and rang the bell to the last door on the left.

I was soon greeted by the head of outreach services Camee Hart, who stopped to show me a picture from 1923 hanging on the wall.

Dayton's bookmobile 'Bertha' at Aullwood Metro Park.
Jim Khale
Dayton's bookmobile 'Bertha' at Aullwood Metro Park.

"This is Electra Doren...we have a branch named after her — she started the bookmobile program," Hart explained.

I then asked her about her first experience with a bookmobile.

"I was never on a bookmobile as a kid, then in 2017 I started working in this department," Hart said. "And it was like, all right you got to drive this thing and I loved it, it was wonderful, I loved my first experience with this bookmobile out here (laughter) we call 'Bertha.' "

Bertha is…the 18-year-old 36-foot-long coach built on a freight-liner drivetrain. With an onboard diesel generator to provide air-conditioning and electricity. Children's librarian Christian Brewington joined us and with seat belts fastened it was time to roll. Well, that’s a pretty tight fit getting it out of the garage.

"Yes. Yes it's very, it takes practice," Hart said.

After a few wide turns and a short drive we found ourselves at Aullwood Metro Park to meet up with a group of children from Headstart — a bookmobile date.

"Anywhere there are children we will go as long as there is a parking spot for us," Hart said.

Bertha had barely stopped rolling before a group of nine children and their instructors were clambering aboard to sing songs, listen to Christian Brewington read, The Bridge is Up by Babs Bell…with the refrain, “So everyone has to wait.”

I was amazed and amused as Christian deftly dealt with interruptions and questions from nine very active kids, all while reading the story about waiting for the bridge to come back down. Then it was check out time with children and instructors pulling books off the shelf looking at covers for that special book that sparked their interest. I noticed that one girl was frustrated looking for a book on unicorns.

Then seemingly out of nowhere Christian handed her a book about a LAMACORN then returned to lead everyone in their final song tape of stop and sing hello. Bertha and her crew delivered over 12,000 book into the hands of young readers this year. She is expected to soldier on for the next year or two while her newly ordered replacement is being built.

Support for Culture Couch comes from WYSO Leaders Frank Scenna and Heather Bailey, who are proud to support storytelling that sparks curiosity, highlights creativity and builds community and Ohio Arts Council.

Culture Couch is created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.