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From Tucson to Boston: My travel plans for 2021

When the Digital Bookmobile hit the road back in February, everything seemed business as usual – flights and hotels were booked, we knew what libraries and schools we’d get to visit, and Marissa and I had made our lists of fun and off-the-beaten-path activities to do in our downtime while traveling. Cut to the global pandemic, and you can almost hear the screeching halt that our plans came to.

It’s now November, and we’ve reached what would have been the last day of the tour. These end of the year blog posts are usually where Marissa and I share how many places we’ve visited and people we’ve seen, but this year looks a little different since we’ve been staying safe at home. Instead of bemoaning all the things we didn’t get to do, Marissa and I wanted to share our top 3 travel plans we’re carrying over into 2021.

Make cosmic observations at Kitt Peak National Observatory
Perched atop Kitt Peak in the Quinlan Mountains, the Kitt Peak National Observatory houses the largest and most diverse collection of astronomical equipment in the world. The observatory has something for everyone- day or night. If you’d like the history of Kitt Peak Observatory and the invention of the telescope, come during the day for this tour. If you want a peek into the cosmos, arrive at sunset to observe the magic of space. Being an all-around space nerd, I had a full day planned to tour the observatory and then stay at night to put my eye to the sky. I can’t wait to return to Tucson and cross this off my travel bucket-list!

Experience a New England domestic time capsule at the Gibson House Museum
Situated in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, the Gibson House Museum was once the home to three generations of Gibson family and staff between 1859-1954. The museum is “a time capsule of domestic life from the mid-nineteenth to early-twentieth centuries.” With both family and friends in Boston, I’ve spent many summers working my way through cultural attractions, and yet, I always have something new I’m dying to see! I love seeing history through vignettes, like historic homes, to really gain the perspective of what life was like during different points in American culture and history.

Attend dinner and a show at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse
The Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse is a unique experience- the tavern hosts live Shakespearian theatre, with hand-crafted period costumes, stunning choreography, and plenty of food and drink. The theatre started in May of 1984 with a one week run of As You Like It, which sparked the dream we see realized today. Plays rotate monthly and are performed by The Atlanta Shakespeare Company. With so much to do in Atlanta, it’s nice to have a place for dinner that doubles as another activity. I’m a lover of theatre, and I find that the best way to experience Shakespeare is with a troupe that focuses on his plays. Once we’re back in Atlanta, this is bound to be a great way to end an evening!

Another bookish bucket list

I’ve been thinking of all the different ways books have inspired me throughout my life since Marissa shared her bookish bucket list last month. Even though things are definitely different this year, and we’ve decided to stay safe at home until 2021, I wanted to share five places from my book-based bucket list that are in the US. I hope that the Bookmobile Tour resumes in 2021 and that I have the chance to start crossing off a few of these next year.

1. Stay in the Napping House

Growing up, I loved The Napping House Wakes Up by Audrey & Don Wood. I had this awesome pop-up book version (that I finally tracked down in my parents’ house!) that I would read all the time. The book begins with the line, “There is a house, a napping house, where everyone is sleeping” and that’s just the energy I need right now. As silly as it sounds, considering we’re currently working from home, not traveling, and staying safe to reduce risk and spread of COVID-19, I would like a restful and relaxing napping vacation in a quaint napping house. While trolling through Airbnb, I found a self-proclaimed “Napping House” right on the lake in Lebanon, CT. I think when we find ourselves headed to New England, I may have to set a bit of personal time aside to stay in this cozy cabin and catch some Zzzs.

2. Study Hoodoo in “The Big Easy”

I’m interested in all sorts of cultures and customs from around the world, but nothing tickles my fancy quite like the southern magic of hoodoo. I have a list of different shops, museums, and locations I’m anxiously awaiting to check out when we make our way to New Orleans. New Orleans is on my literary bucket list for a few different authors, and for the chance to eat beignets, but most recently, I have been inspired to visit New Orleans while diving into The Diviners series by Libba Bray. One of the main characters, Henry, hails from southern nobility. Bray’s use of his southern drawl and his overall genteel demeanor makes me yearn for some southern hospitality, while the book’s content has me craving the mystic. This is also a beautifully narrated series, so if you love audiobooks as much as I do, I’d definitely check it out!

3. Cape Cod Curiosities

It’s no secret I’m a HUGE fan of life on the Cape, but after my visit last year to Cape Cod–and reading Cape Cod Curiosities by Robin Smith-Johnson—my list of reasons to return expanded. If saying that I wanted to study Hoodoo in New Orleans wasn’t a tip-off, I love all things supernatural, paranormal, and true-crime. With that in mind, it should be no wonder that I want to visit Hyannis Public Library, which is said to be the home of many ghosts. Cape Cod also boasts a host of cryptids (like the Pukwudgie), true crime cases, and many other mysteries on the water.

4. Peanuts in West Texas

In her book You Deserve a Drink, comedian, actor, and YouTube personality, Mamrie Hart, regales us with her life stories and experiences. In a chapter devoted to a childhood trip to visit family in Texas, Hart talks about the many different ways “The particular part of Texas we were in was known for its peanuts.” From peanut candy to peanut barbecue sauce, she lists it all. The strangest “recipe” that caught my eye was dumping a pack of peanuts into a glass bottle of Coca Cola, and enjoying the now salty Coke and sweet peanuts! While sure, I could try this at home, I was left nostalgic for trips out of state and experiencing these new and unique parts of American culture.

5. The Warren Museum

My last point (at least for today) brings my whole list full circle. This combines my love of the ooky-spooky, with my need to go to Connecticut to book a stay in the Napping House. Nestled in Monroe, CT, the Warren’s Occult Museum has become the home of a large collection of haunted artifacts gathered by the world’s most famous paranormal investigators. You may know of Ed and Lorraine Warren for “The Conjuring” or “Annabelle,” but I know them from The Demonologist by Gerard Brittle, covering “The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren.” Whether or not you believe in the paranormal, I think it’s fascinating to see the world through the eyes of two people so revered within their field.

If you were to look at my list next to Marissa’s list, you’d see that we’re pretty similar, but also very different! I tend to go the way of a lazy, relaxed vibe for my trips, where as Marissa would be climbing mountains and pitching tents! All in all, I know I miss meeting friendly faces at libraries, making waffles in hotels, and checking out fun (and sometimes spooky) places all across the country.

Wait, What is Sora?

Hi everyone – Joe here! For one of our blogs this month, we wanted to have one of the amazing school partners we’ve visited write a blog post about their experiences using our student reading app, Sora. The blog you’re about to read is from Mr. Shawn Maas, an exceptional Media Specialist and English Language Instructor at Cypress Bay High School, near Miami, Florida.

Cypress Bay High School always stands out to me when I think of school events, which is why I reached out to Shawn to share his story. Last year, we spent two days at this monster-sized high school working with students to get them excited about Sora. During these two days, every student truly was excited to be borrowing ebooks and audiobooks. Aside from the eager faces, I was also impressed by the faculty- they were as eager to learn more and incorporate into their curriculum as the students were. I always remember the teacher who wanted us to talk about audiobooks to every class so that no matter what format, a student was reading.

While Shawn will talk more about his unique media center situation, I wanted to mention, that if you’re a teacher who hasn’t heard of Sora yet, make sure you check out for more information on how your school can get started. Now, on with the blog.

Cypress Bay High School is home to the WAVE; a Media Center that includes 20,000 OverDrive ebooks and audiobooks. Last month our school was closed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Our students and teachers have since transitioned to distance learning.

During an online meeting, it was suggested that we try to promote reading in the school district. A slogan, a Million Minutes in May, was discussed. I jumped onto Sora and took a screenshot of our school’s logged reading minutes for March and shared it with the meeting members. Two weeks in and we already had 47,000 minutes logged in March. A participant in the meeting asked a question, “Wait, what is Sora?”

Five years ago, a County bond provided each school with funds for renovations. Some schools focused the funds on auditoriums and gyms; Cypress Bay decided to focus on the school media center. As the largest public high school in the state of Florida, there was a need to free up physical space. OverDrive was contacted by administration with the idea of a digital media center; at that moment, the WAVE was born.

In August of 2016, I took over the WAVE as Media Specialist. New furniture had been purchased with a focus on power and connectivity. Our print collection, now weeded to 5,000 books, was moved out to the walls, freeing up space for collaboration stations. Students had access to Wi-Fi, laptops and an OverDrive Library of 10,000 digital books.

At the end of our first year, checkouts increased 1000%. At the same time we were only reaching about half of our student body.

In January of 2019, our OverDrive collection had grown to 20,000 copies. The WAVE transitioned to Sora, a new app for students. It was a game-changer for the WAVE. Students now had access to our ebooks and audiobooks in a student-friendly app.

Since Sora was linked to our single sign-on (SSO), students enjoyed one click access; not only to our library but the neighboring public library as well. Students could change their reading settings, define and translate words within their text and save annotations for future use. Teachers could title assign books and monitor student reading times. Sora was simple and smart.

In 2019, our annual checkouts doubled, and with almost 5,000 users we reached the entire student body.

The WAVE had about as smooth of a transition to a distance learning platform as possible. Honestly, thanks to early planning and administrative support, our school was ahead of the digital learning curve. I was asked by a friend, “What do you do now with a closed library?” I smiled knowing The WAVE is never closed. We have always been open 24/7, 365 days a year, thanks to Sora and OverDrive.

OverDrive has recently featured Shawn in the Sora Spotlight. If you’d like to check that out, click here!

2020 Tour Update

After careful consideration, in an effort to maintain the safety of library patrons and staff, along with our Digital Bookmboile team, we have decided to pause the Digital Bookmobile tour. This is a temporary pause, planned to run through April 18.

We are sorry to announce that we have cancelled all Digital Bookmobile events through April 18 in response to COVID-19. We are so put off by these cancellations, knowing how hard library staff has worked and how excited visitors must be.

Please reach out to your library staff for their available resources, and if you have questions, please feel free to connect with us on Instagram (@digitalbookmobile). We will continue to reevaluate and make updates on our 2020 tour as we know more.

Bookmobile Through New Eyes

Guest Blog #1 by Courtney Sveda.

Hi everyone, and welcome to my Digital Bookmobile guest blog post! Most days, you can find me at OverDrive’s world headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio delivering webcasts as a member of the Training Team. Once in a while, I’m lucky enough to hit the road as a core traveler with the bookmobile. My name is Courtney Sveda and I’ve been working at OverDrive for two years now. Since I’ve started, I’ve visited seven different partners and each trip holds its own set of special memories. I want to share a few of my favorites with you!

San Francisco, California
While this trip started off a little rocky (hello eight hour flight delay!), I was thrilled to be going to California for the first time. The fact that the trip was right in the middle of February made it even better. Heading to the beach to see the Golden Gate Bridge after our first event was the highlight of my time in San Fran.

Seattle, Washington
My second trip with the DBM took me to one of my bucket-list destinations. My co-worker and I booked the earliest flight out so we could explore everything in Seattle and boy, did we. We went to the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, the original Starbucks and the Seattle Great Wheel all in one afternoon.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama
My most recent trip took me to Alabama, home of our current “Bachelorette” Hannah B. (anyone else a big fan?). Our hotel was so close to the University of Alabama that my co-worker and I stopped to explore after our event. While walking through the campus, I got to see my Alpha Delta Pi sisters’ gorgeous house. It was cool to see a piece of home so far away.

This trip was also memorable because it was the first time I introduced students to Sora. I loved their excitement when they saw books on the screen that they wanted to read. The students also loved our Sora popsockets that we handed out as prizes for participation! The students’ high energy and excitement helped me to remember who we work so hard for back at the office.

2019 – The Beginning

“Hello and welcome to the Digital Bookmobile!” This is the way I greet so many of our patrons who visit us on the truck. I want to use this greeting to say “hello and welcome” to the 2019 tour blog. Many of you are familiar with Lauren’s writing and her work on the truck, but with the close of the 2018 tour we said goodbye to Lauren on the road. Lauren is still part of the OverDrive team, but she now works with our training department.
So who am I? I’ve referred to myself a lot, but I haven’t done any introductions. I’m Joe Skelley, and I work behind the scenes for the Digital Bookmobile; I plan the route and stops, work on logistics, come up with swag ideas…. I’m the Bookmobile guy. I’ve been with the company for the last three tours, but this is my first blog post. I’ll be posting (for right now) about every other month, along with our new Bookmobile Brand Ambassador Marissa (her introduction to come).
I’ve had the pleasure to tour with the bookmobile since February this year, while Marissa gets her “road legs.” So much has happened between the start of the tour and now… I’m in my third state of the tour— of the US, not state of mind. We’ve hosted 17 events, been to 15 cities, and we’ve driven over 1,400 miles so far. We’ve celebrated our 1,000th event, gone to a book festival, and so much more. What is that “so much more” then?

February makes up 5 of those 17 events. One of the most notable parts was visiting the Ak-Chin Indian Community Library. This Native American community library had a small, but mighty, collection and working an event like this really helps remind us why libraries are so important. Libraries are a huge part of the communities— they provide resources (like Libby) to the people.

One of the other crazy parts of February was being around for SNOW in Las Vegas! For the first time in 10 years, the Las Vegas-Clark County schools shut down. Being from Cleveland, the amount of snow that fell was laughable, but it was truly amazing to see how excited people were to experience the “phenomenon.”

March brought us to the Tucson Festival of Books. I traveled with friend, co-worker, and Professional Book Nerds podcast host Adam. We got to introduce over 3,000 people to Libby on the bookmobile while also meeting authors, presenters, and just lots of fun people who love books and reading.

People come from all over the US and Canada to visit the book festival. We got to introduce more than just the residents of Pima County to Libby; we met people from Alberta, Michigan, Wisconsin, and so many other states. Adam, Ira (our driver) and I passed out so much swag— buttons, phone grips, bookmobile pens… we even had a Snapchat Geofilter. It was quite the weekend!

We also got to stay at the Arizona Inn, which was such a beautiful and historic place. The inn was built in the 1930s by Isabella Greenway (Arizona’s first female Congressional representative), who created a quiet and peaceful escape for many of Hollywood’s elite (Katherine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra to name a couple).
I got a day off in Tucson where I got to hang out with one of my best friends and her husband! We even got tattoos… eek! Sorry mom! Mine is Calcifer in a frying pan from Diana Wynne Jones’ book, Howl’s Moving Castle.

I visited South by Southwest in Austin with my coworker before we visited Austin Public Library and Stiles Middle School. I was also able to visit family while in Austin, and it was so great to get to catch up with them, especially with their first lil reader on the way!

I’ve now made my way through the Stockyards and rodeos of Fort Worth, to the Gopher-Warrior stadium of Grand Prairie. Arlington Public Library tried out our Espressos and Ebooks outreach kit, to great success! I had so much fun talking to patrons over lattes and hot chocolate after they walked through the bookmobile.
This week ends my long stretch on the road, and I’m excited to be getting back home. I love the bookmobile and travel has been so much fun, but I’ve definitely been feeling the homesickness. I have a few well-trained staff members who can run the bookmobile in my place until Marissa’s training is complete, so I’m going to hand the reins over to them for the short interim. I’m really looking forward to keeping up with y’all on the blog! Talk to y’all soon!