Bookmobiles, Literacy, and Hope
By Cleo Lampos
Looking around the Oak Lawn Public Library last Saturday, the wealth of books, music, and videos on shelves filled me with awe at the availability we have for literacy. The rows of computers to reach beyond the walls of the building added to the amazement. A library is a blessing that I do not take for granted.
As a child, a facility like this library would not even have been a dream. I lived in the rural areas of Iowa and Wisconsin. In both states I attended a one room school house. The sparse collection of books on the tiny wooden shelf included a series of books with an orange cover called “Childhoods of Famous People.” I read every one of them from cover to cover. I faced the dangers of the underground railroad with Harriet Tubman, dreamt of freedom with Sun Yat Sen, and bandaged animal paws with Clara Barton. Understanding that everyone experiences difficulty in their childhood was important to me. The home in which I lived included a lot of chaos, loud voices and even violence. School was the only safe spot in my life. The power to overcome hardships in childhood that these biographies delineated had a profound effect on my ability to persevere. But, eventually, I had read all the series.
As a child who needed to escape the harsh realities of life, the bookmobile was my salvation. Every other week, the bookmobile arrived at our one room school in the corn fields. Two crates of literary delights were dropped off with selections for all eight grades. I went right to work choosing my first book from the wooden box, expecting to devour the volumes one by one after completing my work book assignments. I remember reading Thor Hyderdahl’s Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. His descriptions of the pyramids and the hanging gardens of Babylon transported me across the sea to worlds unknown to a farm kid, expanding my horizons. I grabbed the Beverly Cleary books and laughed with the children on Klickatat Street who faced ordinary problems like too many guppies, or a new dog. Discovering Black Beauty, Charlotte’s Web and other animal stories developed my compassion for the livestock on our farm. It was a sad day when Beth died in Little Women. I held the book up to my face to hide my tears from the boys in the class, but the sharing of sorrow made me know that everyone feels pain and loss. The bookmobile transported me from my dysfunctional situation and introduced the prospects of worlds beyond, to feel compassion, experience empathy, and realize the hope that one person can make a difference. The bookmobile saved my life.
A recent newspaper article reported that a bookmobile entered into the inner city community of Englewood. Englewood is a book desert, a place where the sounds of pages turning is unknown. Yet, a man devoted to literacy accumulated a stack of books and runs a bookmobile in the form of a book exchange. Trade a book for a different one. Any book. The parched souls bring their few paper editions with the hope of finding a refreshing substitute. A story that will bathe a dried up heart with hydrating words of hope. Of comfort. Of consolation. Of challenge. Of inspiration. A novel that will sprinkle dew drops of insight into a problem. A paperback that will produce a tsunami of laughter. A nonfiction with life-giving glimpses at new possibilities. A devotional that will heal failing relationships. As the bookmobile travels through the desolate concrete jungle, it becomes an oasis of refreshment for the mind and the soul. Books. Words. Ideas. Literacy.Hope.