Traveling with the Digital Bookmobile has given me the opportunity to meet some pretty amazing people all over the country. No matter where I am, I often hear stories from library patrons about the bookmobiles their small towns had when they were kids. This past February, I was lucky enough to meet Karen (Stav) Evans while visiting the Vista Branch of the San Diego County Library. Karen didn’t simply have memories of a bus full of books traveling to her small town, but memories of her mother, Margaret Anderson Stav Roberts, driving that bus full of books in North Dakota in the 1950s. Karen’s story of Margaret stuck with me long after the Digital Bookmobile left California, so in celebration of National Bookmobile Day, I reached out to her recently to hear more about Margaret’s amazing life.
Throughout my travels, I have gotten to meet quite a few bookmobile drivers, most with pretty funny stories of misadventure. After all, many bookmobiles are a size that would turn most people away at the thought of driving such a thing. “I am astonished that my reasonably petite mother was brave enough to drive that “monster” on narrow farm roads, many unpaved or graveled, as well as on snowy highways or following snowplows into farm yards – and then needing to turn around,” Karen remembered. “The most challenging part of her ‘bookmobiling’ was definitely dealing with the fearsome winter weather and very strong winter winds that blew straight across Canada from the Arctic. North Dakota blizzards are no picnic, but that rarely stopped her!”
Margaret started driving the bookmobile for a trial program to see if it was practical for reaching isolated farms and ranches in western North Dakota after receiving her library certificate. “Many years [after Margaret drove the bookmobile] at a class reunion, one of the participants told me how much the bookmobile stopping at their isolated ranch was such an exciting and welcome event for her family. There was no television until the very late 50s or later for the farms and ranches far from towns. The bookmobile was in many ways a lifeline for those folks,” Karen said.
Driving the bookmobile was only one of the many ways Margaret found ways to help those that needed it most: “[…] during WWII in Bremerton, Washington, she was very active with the United Service Organizations (USO) and war support through our church. […] Through her association with American Associate of University Women (AAUW), P.E.O. International, and various other local groups, she was active in raising funds for scholarships and educational grants. Lifelong learning was definitely a theme of her life,” said Karen. “I’m not sure if [Margaret] thought of her life and career as necessarily ‘being in service to others’. She did love people and social interaction and was an academic when few women were college educated. Putting those things together were natural to being an educator.”
Margaret’s love of reading was apparent throughout her entire life. When I asked Karen if she associated any one book with her mom, she said, “[She] must have read her way through hundreds, if not thousands of books of all kinds. She loved history, biography, art, poetry, etc. The one book I do recall her being captivated by was “Doctor Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak. She took fiendish delight in shocking her small town friends by saying she was ‘going to bed’ with Dr. Zhivago at night. Have I mentioned she had a unique sense of humor?!”
It’s no surprise Margaret’s children inherited her love of books, “We were read to from infancy and books were always part of the gifts we received for birthdays and Christmas. I will never forget the dark and cold winter afternoon mother brought me “Little House in the Big Woods” by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can close my eyes today and be there again! That series was my favorite for the next several years,” Karen remembered.
When I first met Karen, I was excited most by the opportunity to hear more about Margaret’s adventures on the bookmobile. While those anecdotes did not disappoint, by the end of our time together, I was most taken with the sheer amount of love and respect Karen was able to express through her stories of her mom’s incredible life, “Margaret raised four children by herself, in a time and place where her intellect and skills were unappreciated, undervalued, and dismissed due to circumstances beyond her control. She always stood up for herself and did whatever and more needed to be done to educate and care for her children.”