I’ll admit it. When I left Austin for Houston last summer, I did not not have very high expectations, culturally speaking. I figured that I was leaving this haven of music and free thinking for the hometown bubble of job security and family proximity, trading hipster- for suburban sprawl. The Houston I knew before I left for college eight years ago led me to believe this, and rightfully so.
But then I got here. Here here. Montrose. 77006. The Austin, Texas of Houston, Texas. A little haven of the Greater Houston Area, amid all of its oil and sulfur and humidity and people, that somehow retains many of the things I loved (and love) about Austin. It’s not at all the Houston I remember, simply because it is not the Houston to which I was exposed growing up. Sure, there were those couple of times my folks took me to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on Free Museum Day or whatever, but as a general rule, we stayed, at the very least, a good twelve miles north of the north side of 610. Until very recently, I had never experienced what I consider the true Houston, Texas, and that’s why I had such low expectations of coming here.
At the same time, what appeals to me about where I live now is its Austin-ness. One thing I loved (and, when driving, hated) about Austin was how pedestrian- and bike-friendly it was. Montrose is very similar in this sense. There are certainly fewer bike lanes (let alone vehicle-friendly roads), but basically everything you need is within walking or biking distance. Montrose is also gastronomically similar to Austin, and perhaps this is in part due to the direct import of Austin’s food scene into the Montrose area. Three examples that come immediately to mind are Torchy’s Tacos, Uchi, and the Coreanos food truck.
Since moving to Montrose, food truck food has become a staple of my diet, possibly to the point of excess. Sure, I appreciate food trucks for their accessibility, economy, and expediency, but the main reason I keep going back to them is because their food tastes so damn good. So far as I can tell, Houston food trucks make some of the best food in Houston (shoutout to Bernie’s Burger Bus, Bare Bowls Kitchen, Ladybird, Fork in the Road).
Food trucks also speak to our ever-increasingly mobile society. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently: the main purpose of Twitter is for food trucks to alert their followers as to where they will be located on a particular day at a particular time. Similarly, the main purpose of lists on Twitter is to aggregate food truck tweets, so that you know all of your food truck options on a given day at a given time. A good 90% of my time spent on Twitter is spent seeking out food trucks (this amounts to about four and one-half minutes per day).
When I, jobless and with a fresh Master’s degree in Information Studies, first moved back to the Greater Houston Area, I proposed a business venture to a couple of my friends. The idea was essentially this: a library/bookstore. A place (particularly a relatively cheap commercial rental space in a strip center) where a customer could buy, rent, donate, trade, and/or sell books, music (cassette, CD, vinyl), and movies (VHS, DVD). We’d start with our own personal collections and work from there – pay a months rent, buy some shelves, et voila. (I understand, logistically, that this isn’t nearly all we would have had to do, but this is the gist of the idea. I even at one point checked a “How to Write a Business Plan” book out from the library.) But then I found a job, and I’ve sort of just been sitting on the idea for the past nine months.
As time has passed, I’ve become increasingly fond of making this (still very hypothetical) business mobile (i.e. of putting the business inside of a bookmobile). Why not? I imagine that we’d function very similarly to food trucks in terms of locations (coffee shops, bars, festivals, &c.) and networking (Twitter, the fb, $17/year website). I also believe our services would very much complement those of the food trucks. It is very easy to eat and read at the same time (no offense, food).
Last month, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) launched a program called Fine Arts + Food Trucks, where, quote, “A curated selection of Houston’s finest mobile food sources park in the lot adjacent to the main entrance of the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or until quantities are sold out.” I chaperoned a bus trip from my library to MFAH last month, maybe a week after Fine Arts + Food Trucks had premiered, and the aforementioned Bernie’s Burger Bus was there, just, waiting for me. The Menil Collection (if you haven’t gone, you must go) similarly invites food trucks to utilize their parking lot and tweets their support. In both of these instances, food trucks and museums are complementing one another as sources of culture. I think that the bookmobile would fit right in here, right beside a food truck, offering the public yet other facets of culture.
There is a neighborhood library of the Houston Public Library system right down the street from where I live, and the West University branch of my library system (not to mention several other branches of HPL) isn’t too far off. It would make sense for either system to work with MFAH or the Menil Collection. A bookmobile service would advance the services of either system (if people aren’t coming to the library, you go to where the people [with proof of mailing address] are) and encourage and strengthen their relationships with various cultural institutions. And yet neither system has one, and I do not imagine that either will any time soon. Unless…
I like to think of libraries as purveyors of culture. Ultimately, I would like to use my (again very hypothetical) bookmobile for the betterment of public library services, be it one particular library system (like HCPL or HPL [therefore, health care]) or for any library in continental North America (self-explanatory).
At my library, here in 2012, a not statistically insignificant number of persons have come in with inquiries about accessing our Digital Media Catalog and downloading eBooks for free onto their iPad or Kindle or Nook or Sony Reader or what have you. Most of these questions can be very easily addressed by a knowledgeable person in a wi-fi-enabled environment. In that sense, the bookmobile, filled with physical library books and audiobooks and CDs and DVDs, could also double as something of a digital bookmobile. The bookmobile takes all of these services out into the community instead of waiting for the community to find its way to the library.
Librarian that I am (destined to be), I also see the appeal of a bookmobile-for-hire service to all public library systems (and college libraries, and museums, and Half-Price Books, and cetera) everywhere, where we would fill the bookmobile with their materials (including, in the case of public libraries, some library card registration forms, pens, library cards, a laptop with ILS software, etc.) and set up as a lending library (or exhibit, or pop-up shop) at a place of their choosing for whatever reason (within reason). And I would personally find the experience of being a sort of Bookmobile Librarian freelancer extremely rewarding. (Brainstorming a name for this venture: Travels with Charley [where the bookmobile is named Charley]).
So, I guess the real question is, do I go to Seattle and buy this bookmobile? Would it be worth it? Would a twenty-seven year old bookmobile even be able to make it back to Houston? Would everything go exactly according to plan? A library/bookstore business (let’s call it a hobby) and libraries everywhere tweeting at me (@charleydabookmobile) for bookmobile gigs? Should I crack open this Foundation Grants to Individuals tome I picked up at the library and give five or ten of those a shot? Do you think I could qualify this as an Art project on Kickstarter? What about you? Are you feeling philanthropic?
Happy belated National Bookmobile Day, everybody!