Book 'em Danno, it's Jane's mobile library

PUBLISHED: 14:44 13 April 2006 | UPDATED: 11:39 04 May 2010

Ben Jones

Ben Jones

WHEN people talk about literary giants, their minds wander to the works of Chaucer, Steinbeck, Salinger and Scott Fitzgerald. Well, Cambridgeshire has a literary giant all of its own, one we can all be proud of. Its dimensions mean the term giant is cer

WHEN people talk about literary giants, their minds wander to the works of Chaucer, Steinbeck, Salinger and Scott Fitzgerald.

Well, Cambridgeshire has a literary giant all of its own, one we can all be proud of. Its dimensions mean the term 'giant' is certainly a fair description.

It's the mobile library service. It weighs 13 tonnes and is 12ft 6ins high. Colossal is not the word. There are eight of these in the county, which between them make 330,000 visits a year. Six go to public stops and two stop at residential sheltered housing schemes.

Jane Grant drives one of these behemoths. Quite strange to see a woman of a certain age with an HGV licence, but uplifting all the same.

"I did get myself into some trouble at Lode once," she is saying as we amble along at 40mph. "I found myself under the vehicle with a screwdriver, trying to get the sliding door back into its balance."

Happily, the maintenance of the vehicle is left to the professionals, although Jane's rudimentary knowledge of engineering is something she feels is important to have. Universal Garage at Isleham does all the major repairs in the knowledge that the mobile library provides an important service to the people of the district, so I'm more than happy to give them a plug here.

If the door's not playing up, there's the odd wandering drunk to liven up matters. "He got on here once and he wanted a lift to the Red Lion at Kirtling," said Jane of the man, who had clearly got his priorities right. "I talked and talked to him and eventually his dog bolted because he saw something out of the corner of his eye, so he followed. He wasn't unpleasant, though."

For your information, Jane isn't considering pub stop-overs as a means of enhancing the service. Not that it needs much improvement. Those who use the library - and we got a steady stream of them in the Swaffhams and Reach despite Tuesday's weather - clearly value it greatly, with all the comments bar none being positive: "I don't know what I'd do if we didn't have it"; "Jane is very friendly"; "it's a great service", that kind of thing.

The key to it, I suppose, is books. Sounds obvious, but you can get literally anything from the mobile library, if you can endure a short wait for some items. You see, the library can source books from any library in Cambridgeshire, or even the British Library, if needs be.

I had been surprised, even mildly shocked, that there was a copy of Alan Bennett's latest in Jane's office at Soham Library. But I shouldn't have been. The stock in libraries is getting more and more up-to-date and varied, and the mobile is no exception.

I myself, during the quieter moments in the afternoon, pick up Michael Vaughn's autobiography and read the first 50 pages without really thinking about it (it's not great by the way, give it a miss). That's when I'm not staring in wide-eyed amazement at the huge stock of children's books, most of which I encountered as a youngster.

In addition, there are 200 cassettes and talking-books, which are great for car journeys. Last year, the library made more than 25,000 issues. Even the fines - one woman has to pay 5p for a book which is a day overdue - will not break the bank.

The books are re-circulated among the libraries every six months, so the selection never gets stale. There's almost 3,000 books on the vehicle, although the raft of Mills and Boon novels one woman takes out probably diminishes the stock by about a quarter (only joking).

People keep coming back, and Jane is on first-name terms with almost all of them. "That's the thing about the mobile," she says. "Your readers become your friends".

Jane is going on holiday at the end of week, but everyone is keen to know that the library will still be stopping in two weeks' time (naturally, Jane has organised a stand-in).

It goes to all the villages in the district, or at least, I can't think of one that they've missed, so no-one is left without some books. The best way to check when it's stopping near you is to visit: www.hipweb.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/mobiles/index.html or ask at any static library.

I urge everyone to use the service, it's terrific, and if Jane doesn't get a gong in the next Honours List and a small castle in Cornwall, I shall be most disappointed. We shall conveniently forget about the hefty sum I still owe Cambridgeshire Libraries from three years ago, and instead focus on the positive.

The mobile library: a literary giant not to be missed.

l To anyone who was offended by the content of last week's Journeyman Jones, I apologise. Please rest assured that for as long as I reside in Ely I shall support the local community in its efforts to raise money for good causes and provide sporting and recreational facilities for its citizens. I appreciate my sometimes black humour is not to everyone's taste, but please be assured that no offence was intended.

BEN JONES

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