It's been more than 20 years since Berkeley County had its own bookmobile — and that's a big problem.
You see, even though the Berkeley County Library System has six branches spread out over 1,228 square miles, about a third of the county's 178,000 souls live 30 miles or more from one of them.
“So many people live in a rural area, it's hard to get here,” says Donna Osborne, Berkeley County Library director.
No one really remembers why the county lost its last bookmobile back in 1991, but lack of funding is the likely culprit. Times were tough then, as they are now. And bookmobiles aren't cheap — $125,000 to $250,000.
But the need for libraries is just as great now as it was then, perhaps even greater. So instead of grousing about it, the county pulled together and a new bookmobile is on the way.
Yes, this is that rare example of good news.
It all started so simply. Back in 2008, the Daniel Island Rotary Club gave the Friends of the Berkeley County Library $10,000 in seed money for a new bookmobile. The money came from the Rotary Club's duck race, and it inspired a lot of other organizations to get in on the act.
Private donations started pouring in, and the library was able to leverage a $50,000 federal grant from the Library Services Technology Act. Last year, Santee Cooper got into the act.
The Santee Cooper Festival of Lights donated one night's gate to the bookmobile, and Friends of the Library volunteers staffed the park and took in more than $3,000.
Then Home Telecom, which provides cable, phone and Internet services to the county, put in $25,000 — $15,000 in cash and another $10,000 in in-kind services for the rolling library.
Next thing you knew, the library had about $120,000 for its bookmobile.
That's pretty remarkable.
The library is saving money on its bookmobile by spending wisely.
It bought the truck itself on a state contract, and ordered the box on the back separately (it will look like a big U-Haul). Then the library will have it outfitted separately, helped in part by $22,000 from Berkeley County schools to buy materials for the bookmobile.
Osborne says this traveling library will have all the conveniences of one of her branches. It will be a rolling hot spot and will include laptop work stations that will allow folks to access any material the library system has in its collection. “Our focus is going to be on family literacy,” Osborne says. “We're quite excited.”
As they should be. It's a noble goal, made all the better because this is a community project reminiscent of Bedford Falls bailing out George Bailey at the end of “It's a Wonderful Life.”
But the library is still about $22,000 shy of paying off the $140,000 bookmobile.
If you want to get in on the good cheer, you can send donations to the Friends of Berkeley County Library, 100 Library St., Moncks Corner, SC 29461.
There are few causes as good as this. And you might as well pitch in — everyone else is.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.