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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 161-116-E
Division Number: III
Professional Group: Mobile Libraries
Joint Meeting with:
Meeting Number: 116
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Mobile Library Service in Canada: Bookmobiles at the crossroads

Laurette Mackey
York Library Region (York Regional Library)
New Brunswick Library Service
Government of New Brunswick
Fredericton, Canada

E-mail: Laurette.mackey@gnb.ca


Canada consists of 10 provinces and 3 territories located in North America. It's borders are the United States of America to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Mobile libraries are vehicles, most frequently either school-type or city-transport-type buses. An initial survey in 1999 identified bookmobiles in the following provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Service via bookmobiles is either to rural areas or urban areas.

A number of jurisdictions are reviewing their mobile library services. This is the case in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Hamilton and Sarnia.



Thank you to IFLA for this opportunity to give back to the international library community a contribution to the development of library service. I have enjoyed attending IFLA conferences irregularly since 1982 and have appreciated listening to many presentations throughout the years. I hope this report can encourage someone else.

As one of five regional librarians in New Brunswick and as part of a Strategy 2000 process, I am researching some mobile library ideas as one method of providing library service to the residents of the province. The four bookmobiles presently in service in the province will soon need to be replaced. The last bookmobile that needed replacement was taken off the road in 1997.

In order to prepare this report, I was most thankful to Penny Carr, Mississauga (ON) Public Library, for a survey done in preparation for a presentation in the United States in 1999. Also useful were conversations with various key people in different provinces and territories, a bookmobile study prepared by the Policy and Planning section of the former Department of Municipalities of the Government of New Brunswick as well as colleagues in the province.

Mobile libraries in Canada - Overview

Bookmobiles are operational in British Columbia: Thompson

Alberta: Lethbridge, Strathcona

Saskatchewan: Saskatoon, Wheatland

Manitoba: Parkland (Dauphin)

Ontario: Guelph, Hamilton, Mississauga, Ottawa, Sarnia. After an amalgamation, Ottawa and Hamilton have decided to maintain bookmobile service. The transition board for the new city of Hamilton is recommending that the "Bookmobile and Visiting Library Service criteria be changed to provide equitable access across the city to the elderly, disabled and low-income. Service will be provided within the current operating cost envelope."

Quebec: Montreal. Les bibliothèques mobiles ont disparues vers les années 76-77 alors que les municipalités demandaient des bibliothèques municipales, soit autonomes ou affiliées aux Bibliothèques centrales de prêts, devenues plus tard des Centre régionaux de service aux bibliothèques publiques. Les CRSBP offrent les service de bibliothèque (collection, catalogue, mise en réseau, formation des employés ) à des municipalités affiliées qui, elles, fournissent le personnel, le local, la programmation. Avec les diverses subventions, il appert que les coûts sont divisés presque à parts égales entre les CRSBP (provincial) et les municipalités.

New Brunswick: Albert-Westmorland-Kent, Chaleur, Haut-Saint-Jean, York (Regions). Bookmobile service is under review since buses, owned by the Department of Transportation, will need to be replaced in the near future.

Nova Scotia: Annapolis Valley, Cumberland, Halifax, South Shore (regions). Eastern Counties shut down the bookmobile service in January 2000 with much regret.

Prince Edward Island: Bookmobiles were eliminated in 1992 gor two reasons: a request to reduce the budget by 10% as well as facing the replacement cost of two vehicles (one service the west - Summerside and one serving the east - Morell). With a population just over 100.000, there are 22 libraries in the province. 97% of the population lives within 15kms of a public library. Since the bookmobiles have been eliminated, automation of the collection and increased funds for acquisitions are two of the reasons for an 7% increase in overall circulation. Few complaints were received in the 8 years since.

Newfoundland: There are no more bookmobiles in NF since 1983. Bookmobiles were in Saint John's and selected areas like Corner Brook and Carbonear. They gradually disappeared from the mid-70's to 1983, were replaced ineffectively by books by mail, then successfully by new branches.

Nunavut: There are 11 libraries, of which 3 or 4 are located in schools. Each library is served by a revolving collection of "book blocks" 3 or 4 times a year. There is also a books by mail service. The library service is very similar to that of the NWT before the creation of the new territory. Most travel and deliveries are by plane. The territorial administration and the hamlets have a contribution agreement to cover the cost of staff and a % of the operating costs (fax and phone, etc.)

Northwest Territories: There are approximately 24 free standing libraries with populations as high as 3,500 (Hay River) and as low as 200 - 300. There are no mobile libraries although the collections are revolving ones. There is also a Books by mail service: 4 books in June 2000 and 27 requests in February 2000.

Yukon: There are 15 community libraries, all branches of the main library in Whitehorse.

Some details on the profile of the bookmobiles in operation at present:

Bookmobiles still operating at present began in the '40s (1), 50's (8), 60's (4), 70's (4), 80's (2).

Circulation figures vary from as low as 19,000/year (in a rural area) to 255,000 (urban area - Toronto)

Number of kms traveled vary from 2,500 (urban) to 60,000 (rural)

Number of hours on the road vary from 572 to 3562. Circulation per hour is as low as 4.64 (Sarnia) and as high as 205 (Hamilton).

Loan periods are traditionally 3 weeks. Exceptions are made for bookmobile summer holiday schedule or for special interest groups.

Fines are collected. If they are not, the reason appears to be a problem with the automated circulation system (one case only).

The number of stops can be as low as 8 (urban area) and as high as 109 (rural).

The type of stops serviced are daycares (4), seniors residences (11), schools (10), community (19).

The length of a stop can be as low as 10 minutes and as high as 180 minutes. In Sarnia, one stop lasts one full day.

The frequency of visits varies from weekly (9) to monthly (2) with bi-weekly (4) and three weeks (9) intervals between visits.

Programs: storytime included in one 25 minutes rural stop, seasonal contests, participation in a province-wide Summer Reading Club (Club de lecture d'été ). In Ottawa, one-60 minutes stop can include booktalks, storytime or book clubs.

Outreach: participation in community affairs is fairly divided, almost half and half. Some do and some don't.

Publicity of the service can be done with posters/flyers, word of mouth, community newsletters, a few have radio, cable or newspaper adds, some have their service on the library's website.

There are no fees for the service but charges as in all public library service, except in one case in one bookmobile: private school visits.

Operation: the bookmobile service is usually on its own, out of the main office; those that share administration with others do so with a main library, an outreach service, a homebound service…

Number of staff employed for the bookmobile, both on the road and in the office, vary from 1.5FTE (full time employee) to 8, with an average of 3.06. The number of staff on the bookmobile is usually 2.

Types of vehicles: school bus chassis (6), Thomas bus chassis (7), ELF Bookmobile, Ontario supplier (3), tractor trailer (4), one lone Atco Book trailer. The size varies from 25 ft to 45 ft. They all use diesel fuel except 2. Most administrators would repurchase the same vehicle with certain exceptions. The school bus chassis was preferred but did not have wheelchair access. Hamilton tried both the tractor trailer and a converted recreational vehicle and prefer the school bus.

The size of the collection varies from 2200 to 6500. The 45 ft trailer can contain 10,000 items.

Bookmobiles often have circulation higher than many small branches.

At present, there is no computer access for patrons.

Circulation is automated in 6 cases, where the main library system is automated with Dynix, DRA and JES. Some library systems are still manual and one uses T-cards of the Recordak system. With Dynix, bookmobile are both manual and automated. With DRA, bookmobiles use a backup system. Even in one region, the bookmobile stops can be either online or offline depending upon the connection available at the location. Connections are cellular, Telxon, phone modem or data radio. We have no satellite service yet.

In the next five to 10 years, 10 jurisdictions believe their bookmobile will still be around. 4 believed not and another 4 did not comment, explaining that the service was under review. When it came to replace the bookmobile, 8 said yes, 5 acknowledged a study, 2 said no and 4 could not answer/did not know. Often the decision is made at a different level since the vehicle belongs to either a province, a municipality or the board.

New Brunswick

In New Brunswick. We have a population of some 740,000 people. Population density is 26 persons per square mile or 10 per square kilometer((12 and 4 in Canada). The population remains constant in a ratio of 52% rural and 48% urban. Largest urban centers are Saint John (72,000), Moncton (59,000), Fredericton (46,500), Miramichi (25,000), Riverview (16,600), Bathurst (13,800), Dieppe (12,500), Edmundston (11,000), Rothesay (10,400).

The purpose of the study is to identify the most equitable cost efficient delivery of full library service to all citizens of the province. We are identifying standards for mobile library service: where, for whom, how, distance from home base, distance from other service points and between stops, number of patrons served, circulation, level of service, staff, collection, programs, etc. The strategy 2000 team is also preparing standards for free standing libraries. We also have joint public / school libraries (10/61). When the study is completed, we hope to have guidelines/ standards for library service across the province. Bookmobiles will either be improved or eliminated. First impressions are that the bookmobile provides an ever-changing collection, stops can be adjusted based on demand, especially in areas that cannot afford to have a free standing library.


The choice of a mobile library for service in New Brunswick will be a political decision based on factual information concerning service and costs. Administration studies various options and may recommend best solutions. I expect to be part of the process as I return. I would appreciate your questions and comments and will answer as best I can.


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