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Route comes to an end for the ‘Bookmobile Lady’ today

She’s been involved with the library since she was a little girl, loves the road and watching the seasons turn in Screven and Jenkins counties, and she loves visiting the elderly and little children on her route. Have you been visited by the Bookmobile Lady?
Barbara Gilbert started full-time as the driver of the bookmobile on Oct. 1, 1981 – a day she remembers well because she had to sit on the Screven County Grand Jury and missed her first day at the library.
Her aunt, Claire Mincey, was the first bookmobile librarian starting when the program began in 1952. Mincey would take Gilbert on the route so Gilbert wouldn’t sit at home with nothing to do as her mother would be at church and homemaker’s meetings.
“I learned to love (riding on the bookmobile). I loved seeing all the animals and the people,” she said. “Then in 1981 she needed a driver and she called me and told me to come to town. I came to town.  We got in the bookmobile and we rode out Halcyondale Road and stopped at Ditch Pond and she says, ‘Get over here and drive.” And I said, ‘Huh?’ And she says, ‘You heard me.’ So I got over there and I drove, and I’ve been driving ever since.”
The bookmobile’s success is legendary – Gilbert knows several generations of visitors. Kids know who she is and will grab their parent’s clothes and say, “That’s the bookmobile lady!” and she’ll smile and wave.
Elderly patrons and young children have the biggest spot in Gilbert’s heart, as she would give the elderly company in the form of mystery novels and sit-down chats, and the children on the route, some ferocious readers – like two children who read more than 50 books in a span of three weeks – whose imaginations took off along with the older, established story lines of Dr. Seuss and Curious George.
Driving so much would be a problem for some, but Gilbert said she loved the road – except for some of the county’s bad dirt roads.
Gilbert hardly missed a day before illnesses and major medical problems started catching up with her. Seven years ago she had a kidney stone that caused her to be hospitalized for almost a month, and in July of last year she had a minor stroke that left her unable to drive the bookmobile as she lost some control in her arm.
“I hadn’t taken a vacation in years and I miss the going around seeing the crops grow,” she said. “I could tell you when winter was coming or when fall was coming because of the flowers. It just… maybe I’m just an outdoor person.”
But the bookmobile is a legacy she will always remembered by. Gilbert is officially retiring Friday and having a reception at the Screven-Jenkins Regional Library today at 4 p.m. until 6 p.m.
Gilbert noticed the bookmobile’s patrons had been dwindling year after year, but she said it’s because access to the library has gotten easier and the library has more reasons to come now-a-days. When the bookmobile started the county was very rural and that’s partially why she thinks it was so successful and lasted as long as it did.
Bookmobile patrons have asked about Gilbert and why the bookmobile hasn’t been driving around and delivering as much as it used to. With a smaller budget and lack of funding, the library has decided that when Gilbert goes, the bookmobile ends as well.
Over the past year Gilbert has been helping as a standard librarian, sorting books and helping front desk visitors. The current bookmobile, which was purchased in 2000 using funds provided by the state legislature through efforts by Senator Jack Hill and Representative Bob Lane, has more than 95,000 miles on it.
Currently the library is conducting an inventory of the bookmobile and removing the inside components. The library does not have a concrete plan of what the vehicle’s purpose will be after the program officially ends Friday.
The regional library system has had a total of four bookmobiles, starting with the 1952 vehicle which was replaced in 1958 with professional librarians’ unused travel funds. The 1958 bookmobile was replaced in 1965 through a combination of funds including local money and the Library Services and Construction Act.
All of those who have had a book or item delivered by Gilbert will get to celebrate her career at the library Thursday. The public is welcome to attend the 4 p.m. event. Don’t let her retirement fool you, though.
“I’ll always be the bookmobile lady,” Gilbert said with a smile.