Amish children in larger communities benefit from bookmobiles, which travel around their settlements delivering a mobile library to eager young readers. The bookmobile might seem like a relic of a bygone time – especially when we have more reading available to us in libraries, both online and off, than ever before.

But for a community of people who are limited by their use of technology in accessing both physical and digital libraries, bookmobiles play an important role. And they are heavily used by Amish. For example, the bookmobile in Holmes County, Ohio has an annual circulation of nearly 200,000 books in that very Amish part of the country (see An Amish Paradox, p. 166) .

Bookmobile parked outside Amish business in Wayne County, Ohio

Among the countless disruptions to regular life due to the coronavirus and response, we can now add another – a bookmobile serving the large northern Indiana settlement has been shut down:

LAGRANGE — The LaGrange County Public Library bookmobile is the newest causality in the battle against coronavirus.

The library announced this week that its board of directors decided to keep the bookmobile parked this fall. Traditionally, the bookmobile roams LaGrange County, usually visiting small, private Amish schools, providing those students with books to read.

Demand here for the bookmobile remains high, unlike other more urban communities where bookmobile services have diminished. According to LaGrange County Library Director Richard Kuster, the LaGrange bookmobile typically visits more than 60 Amish schools, providing those students with a constant and ever-changing supply of new material to read.

But because of the coronavirus pandemic, the library board has deemed the bookmobile’s limited interior space a potential coronavirus hazard.

“The board discussed it, and everyone agreed that the bookmobile is close-quarters, and it goes from stop to stop to stop, and that, under the circumstances, is not a good thing,” Kuster explained. “We’ve decided to just hold off for a while, hoping that things get better.”

I don’t know how this bookmobile normally functions – is it usually packed with children? – but would it not be possible to allow children on individually, or groups of siblings together? Could you air it out between stops? Reduce the number of stops per day? Have children wear masks and use sanitizer before going on, of course?

I guess I’m not understanding why this space poses a greater hazard than the many other frequently-used spaces which are currently open to the public in Indiana, like grocery stores, retail shops, malls, and even bars and movie theaters (at reduced capacity), to take a few examples. Perhaps it’s the smaller space of the vehicle that people are worried about, but it seems like any hazard from that could be managed.

LaGrange County Public Library Bookmobile. Photo by Patrick Redmond/kpcnews.com

Of course this also means accepting that coronavirus is a meaningful danger to young children, or that they are significant threats to spread it. Meanwhile studies and recent data show that the virus danger to children is “extremely small,” and suggest that they are unlikely to spread coronavirus to other children or adults (at least younger children).

That matter aside, the board has found an alternative for their young readers – “tubs”:

Library staff members fill plastic tubs with age-appropriate books the library is willing to drop off at local schools once a month. After a month in circulation, those books are placed back in the tub and returned to the library. Once they are back in the library’s hands, the books are allowed to set for several days, and deep cleaned if necessary. Chrisman said it was simply the right thing to do, a way to keep children reading.

Their approach might be overly cautious, but good for them for at least finding an alternative to keep the children supplied with fresh reading.

The LaGrange County Public Library bookmobile isn’t officially an “Amish” bookmobile. But we might as well call it that. Serving dozens of Amish schools in one of the two most heavily-Amish counties in America, I would guess that the vast majority of its readers are Amish children.

I can tell you from experience how Amish parents value having wholesome reading material in the home for their children. So I hope these kids will continue to get a sufficient supply of reading material under the new plan.


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