Photo: Valerie Gilreath, president of the board of directors of Reading to Go Places (doing business as The Bookmobile), right, and volunteer Madison Cowart watch as a reader picks up books at the Dinners To Go meal program. RANDY PARKER/THE DAILY TRIBUNE NEWS

BY MARIE NESMITH                                                                  Posted Friday, May 15, 2020
As president of The Bookmobile’s board of directors, Valerie Gilreath continues to supply children with
reading materials in the midst of COVID-19.

“I am grateful for the opportunity to serve others right now,” she said. “It gives me some sense of
control when everything seems so uncertain. At least we can continue to do our small part in making
someone else’s day easier and brighter.

“My favorite moment came while checking the Little Free Library at Emerson City Hall in April. We
tried to keep all the Little Free Libraries in good order and full of books throughout the shelter-in place.
Several people had written notes of gratitude in the Little Library guest book for providing books
during the shutdown. It was clear that books are a comfort to many, and everyone needed some
comfort during the past couple of months.”

While the operations of The Bookmobile — Reading to Go Places! are restricted due to social
distancing and safety measures, the literary effort is striving to offer the gift of reading during the
coronavirus pandemic.

“With schools teaching remotely and libraries closed, it is more important than ever that children have
books in the home,” Gilreath said. “The disparities between technology and resources available to some
families and not to others are brought into sharp relief during this time.

“In order for children to continue vital language development and maintain existing reading skills,
they must have books in the home. As always, we try to meet families where they are to remove as
many barriers to access as possible.”

Established in July 2017, The Bookmobile originally focused on south Bartow, but has since extended
its service area. Last year, 152 new Bookmobile library cards were issued, 700 books were checked out
and 3,610 books were given to families.

“We saw a need for a program to augment services provided by the schools and the local government
to help families break the cycle of generational poverty,” Gilreath said. “Education is the key to
interrupting that cycle and early reading is the surest way to promote academic success.

“Getting books into the hands of children before they start school and teaching and encouraging
parents to read to their preschool-age children builds the language and literacy skills kids need to be
ready for school and to excel once they get there. Then keeping kids reading for pleasure as they grow
maintains that success and spurs them toward graduation.”

With the onset of COVID-19, The Bookmobile’s reach was stunted this spring as events canceled across
Bartow. “We were especially disappointed that plans for our Summer Reading Book Bundle program were
interrupted by the school closings,” Gilreath said. “Last year, in partnership with Read to Grow and
Allatoona Elementary School, we were able to give away 325 books to 65 first-graders at Allatoona
Elementary at an end-of-year reading celebration.

“Each child received a bundle of five different age-appropriate books and activity sheets to read over
the summer. These bundles are intended to prevent the summer reading regression that often takes
place. Plans were in place to expand this program to four elementary schools this year, but with the
children not in school, we have to rethink how to get all of these books into kids’ hands for the

Currently, The Bookmobile is teaming up with the schools’ Summer Feeding Program and serving its
recipients. Each day, the mobile library follows a different school bus in order to spread its offerings to
various parts of the county.

In addition to setting up at the Allatoona Resource Center the third Saturday of every month, The
Bookmobile plans to, if possible, visit the Cartersville Farmers Market on the first Saturday of each

Along with not allowing people to come inside its vehicle and check out materials, The Bookmobile is
no longer accepting used books from the public. The outreach’s program director, Kim Dennis, shared
these used books in the past would supplement The Bookmobile’s library check-out collection and fill
Little Free Libraries.

“We’ve continued the policy of giving away new books to each child at each meeting,” Gilreath said.
“Since children are unable to check out books, we are providing two free books instead of one, plus
other age-appropriate reading materials, such as kids’ magazines and activity sheets. We are
prepacking these resources into bags and labeling them by age/reading level.

“Parents drive up and tell us the number of children and ages, we choose the bags, place them on a
table and step away, then the parent exits the car and retrieves the bag/bags from the table. This
system allows us to maintain the recommended 6 feet of social distance.”

Among Dennis’ top moments this spring was the opportunity to reconnect with a family at the Dinners
TOGO outreach. “Providing books for a mother of eight that I met during ‘Adventures in Reading’ at Bartow Family
Resources last summer at our recent Dinners TOGO appearance,” Dennis elaborated on the
memorable experience. “I could not interact with the children, but I could ask about them and let the
mother know that we are doing everything we can to support her and them during this time.

“Also the overwhelming amount of thanks from parents and grandparents for the free books for the
children. They are stretched thin trying to support remote learning and keep kids occupied while at
home. Everyone has been very grateful for books to give the kids other things to do.”

In addition to encouraging people to follow their efforts on social media, Gilreath is extending thanks
to donors of The Bookmobile’s Join the Story fundraising drive. Launched Oct. 31, 2019, the campaign
wrapped up around Feb. 15 and generated $80,000 for replace a retired vehicle.

“We titled it ‘Join the Story’ because we knew these donations would write the next chapter for the
program,” she said. “At certain donation levels, families and businesses could choose a message to
include on a book spine in the new vehicle’s graphic wrap. This is one more way the community can
join the story of The Bookmobile.

“The campaign was an overwhelming success. We cannot express enough our gratitude and
appreciation to everyone who donated. The Bartow community really showed up for us.”

For more information about The Bookmobile, visit or follow its Facebook or
Instagram accounts.