Van reaches out to Nashua readers

NASHUA – Alice Levesque looked at the titles of the best sellers sitting on her dining room table. For an avid reader, who finishes a book a week, the delivery from Karen Egle-Gaber was a welcome gift.

“I am getting older. I don’t get out much,” said the 88-year-old with a fondness for popular mystery authors Joyce Carol Oates and John Grisham.

For the next three weeks, she had P.D. James, Martha Grimes and Sidney Sheldon to keep her company in the small, tidy apartment.

Minutes earlier, Egle-Gaber drove into the parking lot at the Coliseum Senior Residence behind the wheel of the Nashua Public Library’s red minivan stenciled with “books and more, door to door.”

She stopped at the apartment complex on Coliseum Avenue as part of the library’s new outreach services. The goal is to reach parts of the community that would otherwise not be able to use the library. So, Egle-Gaber dropped in to see Levesque and visited with other chatty patrons to exchange read books for new ones.

“It think its one of the best things the city does for the elderly and homebound,” said Lorraine Caron, who is 83 and a retired bookkeeper. She visited the library not too long ago, but with a sore leg and a slight hill between the parking lot and the library, Caron said she feared she would not make it in the door.

Now with the delivery service, Caron and her husband, Reynold, have a new heap of books to flip through. She reads biographies, like the new release about Gregory Peck, along with books on crafts. Her walls are covered with paintings done by her own hand.

Caron and other readers at the Coliseum Senior Residence feared that taking the 13-year-old bookmobile off the road during the summer meant the end of book borrowing since they could not drive to the Court Street main branch.

And buying books that can easily top $25 is not financially possible.

Instead, the library purchased the minivan to offer this new outreach service and redesigned the service. It now delivers books, magazines and books on tape to people who have difficulty leaving their homes because of illness or age. It also visits daycare centers and students who are home-schooled.

An advantage of the minivan service is there are more places accessible. The bookmobile, which measured more than 30 feet, could not fit in all the parking lots, said Egle-Gaber, an assistant librarian. Egle-Gaber and Jason Crook make runs at least twice a day to deliver the books.

Library lovers can place an order for material a couple different ways though the free program.

A phone call to the library will get an item on the van or a customer fills out an interest card, marking off the types of books they enjoy, from westerns and biographies to picture books and history.

The library’s catalog can be explored on the Internet and request filed by computer.

People keep the books for about three weeks and then they are replaced with another pile. Popular reads from the New York Times Best Seller list are part of the mix too, although people may need to wait a bit.

There is no fine if the books are not returned on time, in case the patrons are on a medical appointment when the van stops, or bad weather keeps the van off the road; the books are automatically renewed. The only fine comes if a book is lost.

Egle-Gaber said she gets to know customers, figuring out what books they like, and people are not afraid to be literary critics.

“They let you know if they don’t like something,” she said.

There are roughly about 100 individuals and a dozen day care centers signed up for the program. Teachers at Nashua Christian School and Nashua Catholic Regional Junior High enlist the library services to bring books on subjects, like a recent delivery about Impressionism, Monet and other art-related subjects.

“I don’t think there are enough who know about it,” said Crook.

The goal would be to at least double the number of people receiving the books by June, said Egle-Gaber, who worked on the bookmobile for eight years.

Many in the community are “hungry for books,” she said.