The Bookmobile leans against the sidewalk of St. Joseph Consolidated elementary school. A bright green, blue, and red image of stacked books decorates all exterior sides of the bus. Both of its main doors are open, letting in a cool breeze and causing the paperwork tacked on the bulletin board to sway gently. The engine faintly whirs in the background. No children inside just yet.
Fran Meyer works quickly to set out books. She takes picture books out of small baskets on the floor and lines them up on shelves to cover up the adult books; this is an elementary school visit, so she won’t need the novels.
A kindergarten teacher in a bright blue floral skirt steps onto the bus. Meyer introduces herself as “Jack’s mom,” and adjusts the small silver nameplate pinned neatly to her purple cardigan.
Following the teacher, a dozen children file onto the bus, which shakes slightly as they step on. Meyer greets each one individually at the door, saying “the kids benefit from that.” She knows most of them by name.
“Isn’t that the one you had last month?” Meyer asks a girl holding a “My Little Pony” book. She remembers what the kids have been reading.
A blond boy requests a book about Legos. Meyer knows exactly where to find it, and stoops down to hand it to him.
Meyer doesn’t have a “baby voice” to talk to kids; she speaks to them as if they’re adults. She says kids get overlooked a lot, so it’s important to take them seriously and establish real connections. She wants each child to have a personalized experience on the bus.
This day on the Lane Public Libraries Bookmobile bus is only part of Meyer’s job. As the Bookmobile Services Manager, she drives the bus to 22 schools every month. In the summer months, the bus visits orphanages, apartment complexes, trailer parks, and senior homes.
Meyer says community services have more impact if they are physically in the community. She wants to encourage library access to people who can’t get themselves to the library.
In the digital age, Meyer doesn’t see the value of libraries decreasing at all. Not all kids, especially in low-income areas, have easy access to computer devices, and senior groups are often more comfortable with physical books.
Meyer says the best part of her job is connecting with kids who think reading isn’t cool, or fun, or interesting. She watches kids get excited about monster trucks, video games and other book topics they didn’t know existed.
She started working in libraries in college. After majoring in English at Mount St. Joseph University, she received a master’s degree in library studies from Syracuse. After college, she worked in the Cincinnati Public Libraries before moving to New York for her husband’s job and working at the Robert C. McEwen Library in Fort Drum, New York. Now, the 38-year-old has been working at the Lane Libraries for almost 12 years.
Photos of her family and drawings her children made plaster the walls of Meyer’s office. The room is cluttered, with scattered papers and books covering the desk and a single bottle of bubbles sitting atop the file cabinet.
Her kids mean the world to her.
Natalie, a fourth grade Girl Scout, accompanies her mom to Dayton Women’s Club events. Jack, a second grade baseball player, likes to go to the Renaissance Festival. Meyer’s Facebook account teems with photos of her family, motivational quotes about reading, and stories from her kitchen, where she’s learning by trial and error to bake bread from scratch.
Meyer loves working with kids, and she loves teaching the importance of reading to those who wouldn’t have a chance to without the library. She says the bookmobile job was “the perfect fit.”
Kathy James, an instructional coach for Talawanda School District, remembers Meyer from the first time they met.
“Around eight years ago, Fran came to an area summer program I coordinated,” James said. “We talked about getting the Bookmobile to go to the mobile home community in the neighborhood.” James says she admires Meyer’s efforts to serve literacy in low income communities.
On their way out, children stop by Meyer at the back door to check out each book. One boy hands her a book about bugs. “Cicadas? Yuck!” Meyer exclaims. “Please take this. I don’t wanna look at it.” Another boy excitedly shows her pictures of dinosaurs from his book.
In all of 10 minutes, the kindergarten class from St. Joseph Consolidated has raided the bus of books and disappeared. The next class, a group of second graders, will board in 15 minutes, giving Meyer just enough time to switch out some picture books for chapter books. The cycle will repeat; children board, Meyer helps them find books, and they leave more excited about reading than before. This is the impact of the Bookmobile, and this is the impact of Fran Meyer.