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0000017b-35e5-df5e-a97b-35edaf800000 We spent the past two months traveling to libraries across the state to see how their roles have evolved with the rise of the internet. In Ann Arbor, patrons can rent telescopes from the Ann Arbor District Library's tool library, and in Macomb County there's a special library for the deaf and blind. What's going on at your local library? Tweet at @michiganradio using the hashtag #MILibrary.

The public library in an Internet age: the Ypsilanti District Library comes to patrons on a bus

There’s a bright blue bus that rumbles through Ypsilanti streets. The words “Start Here. Go Anywhere.” are painted on the outside. On the inside there are shelves of books, two computers, a reading nook and a checkout station.

“We function as a moving block party,” said Mary Garboden, who runs the bookmobile as Ypsilanti District Library’s outreach librarian. At every stop kids run onto the bus, returning DVDs, checking out books or making use of the bus’ internet equipped computers.

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Credit Carolyn Gearig/Michigan Radio

The bus is a remnant of a trend that hit libraries in the 70s, when bookmobiles were shuttling books all over the country to reach rural communities, she said. As brick and mortar library systems have grown, however, bookmobile programs were dropped in most places.

Not in Ypsilanti. Ken McGregor, who has driven the bus for eight years, said it’s stuck around because people love it; it’s part of the community. He sees a lot of the same families, and said he’s seen kids grow up on the bookmobile.

Garboden said libraries still play a role in accessing information by addressing the digital divide, especially in a community like Ypsilanti where it’s not a guarantee that a family has wifi or a computer. She said libraries serve as a “safety net for the most vulnerable.”

Often, the most vulnerable are those that can’t make it to the library, and that’s why the bookmobile is out there.

Over the past two months we’ve traveled throughout the state to see how libraries in Michigan are serving curious Michiganders. See the rest of our stories on Michigan libraries here and here.

– Carolyn Gearig and Paula Friedrich

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