The Free Press, Mankato, MN

September 16, 2013

North Mankato seeking money for bookmobile

Foundation approves $15,000 grant toward vehicle purchase

By Dan Linehan

---- — NORTH MANKATO — The bookmobile got an informal vote of confidence Monday from the City Council, which agreed to start seeking grants to replace the aging mobile library.

The library already has a $15,000 commitment from the Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation toward a bookmobile, but wanted to make sure it had council support before pursuing more funding. An outfitted bookmobile is expected to cost between $45,000 and $60,000.

“Before (Library Director) Lucy (Lowry) applied for grants, we did not want to be in a position where we got the grants and have the council have a completely opposite opinion of the service,” City Administrator John Harrenstein said.

Buying a bookmobile, in other words, wouldn’t make much sense if the future of the service is in question. The bookmobile is about 20 years old and costs about $75,000 a year to operate.

Though no vote was taken, a majority of councilors supported the bookmobile and asked Lowry to keep looking for money.

Councilman Kim Spears suggested the city shouldn’t make the bookmobile a priority compared to other city services.

“For the number of people served and the number who pay, I don’t think it’s real practical,” he said.

Councilwoman Diane Norland took exception to Spears' description of the bookmobile as a “feel-good” expenditure.

“My priority is a library over a hole in the street,” she said. “I got to be blunt.”

Councilmen Billy Steiner and Bob Freyberg likewise supported the bookmobile. Freyberg said it’s a small price to pay to ignite an interest in reading for children. And Steiner said the bookmobile brings books to senior citizens, who are less likely to read on their Kindle or computer.

Mayor Mark Dehen struck a middle position.

He said he’s been asking whether, in the face of changing technology, the bookmobile is a worthwhile expense. Blue Earth County cited changing technology when it ended its commitment to the bookmobile last year.

Dehen said he didn’t want to start asking individuals for contributions toward a new bookmobile, but said Lowry should keep looking for foundations willing to give grants. The Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation’s grant is good for a year after it was approved, which happened in May.