It surprised Hays Public Library Director Brandon Hines when Matthews Specialty Vehicles, Greensboro, N.C., on Friday followed through with delivery of the library’s newly converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van 3500 bookmobile.


“They told me that ours is the last van they will deliver,” Hines said. “They are transitioning to manufacturing mobile coronavirus testing units.”


The new bookmobile, paid for with a grant from the Dane G. Hansen Foundation, Logan, and the Hays Public Library Foundation, holds more than 1,000 adult books.


The hope is to have it on the road four days a week, making it a staple throughout the community, Hines said. That will include assisted living facilities, schools, day cares, the Downtown Farmers Market, Fort Hays games, the Wild West Fest, and baseball, soccer and football games, said Holly Ray, the library’s outreach coordinator and primary bookmobile driver.


Right now, though, with the library closed to the public, plans for rolling out the bookmobile are undergoing revision.


“We are trying to think of ways to adapt our outreach services to the current situation,” Ray said. “Having the bookmobile will give us more options, but we’re still in the planning phase of how we’ll use the bookmobile at this time.”


A library task force is working on a plan for the library to safely resume services, Hines said. Some libraries around the country already have initiated curbside drop off and pick up for library patrons. But Hines is being more cautious.


“We’ve learned that the virus lives on surfaces for a really long time,” he said. “So we still have some concerns about materials coming into the library.”


When the time comes, though, the bookmobile will be ready.


“We have a physical collection ready to go,” Hines said. “It will take a couple weeks to get it situated.”


Inside the van, strapped to the wall, are three double-sided carts and four single-sided carts. They can be removed and rolled in to day cares or senior care facilities, or patrons can walk into the van and browse books on fixed shelves. The inventory of books will be changed in and out, depending on the location being visited.


“The driver’s seat swivels,” Hines said, “so the driver can turn around and check out books.”


Two times a month the van will visit Victoria, which doesn’t have a public library, as well as stopping at the after-school program, and at the swimming pool during the summer months.


It also will visit Schoenchen and Munjor for special events, he said, and even occasionally Ellis, which has a public library.


“We have 1,000 cardholders from those three communities,” said Hines.


Commenting that nationwide more people visited their public libraries than went to the movies last year, Ray said people still like reading a physical book, such as families who want picture books for their children.


Since the conditions under which COVID-19 survives may not yet be well-understood, such as what temperature, what humidity and different surfaces, the librarians are proceeding carefully, Ray indicated.


“We have to hear a lot more research,” Ray said, “for the public good and public safety.”