Remember the days of Chicago’s Cows and Peoria’s PIGs (Peoria Is Great)? Decorated fiberglass pigs adorned lobbies and sidewalks at businesses around town. Porcine princesses and poets alike amused passersby and gave us the feeling that we, like Chicago, were surrounded with living art.

The pigs have moved on, some safely stored and some still guarding store entrances, but they left in their wake a gem all of Peoria can appreciate. For the pigs didn’t exist just for themselves, but as a fundraising device for the Peoria Public Library’s Bookmobile.

While the pigs were the most visible-and memorable-of the fundraising efforts that went into raising the $200,000 needed to buy the Bookmobile, they only raised $15,000. The rest of the money came from many sources, including an Illinois FIRST grant, Caterpillar, auctions, a murder-mystery, and many other smaller fund-raisers.

Thanks to the dedicated folks who were determined to see bookmobile service restored after the old bookmobile would no longer function in 1999, the Bookmobile has been cruising the streets of Peoria for two years. It’s a sleek, attractive, 32-foot-long library on wheels. Powered by its donated CAT 3126E engine, it takes to the streets four days a week bringing books, magazines, movies, and music to a total of 39 stops every two weeks throughout Peoria. Covered with colorful photo graphics outside, it shows children and adults reading books that all feature the word "pig" in the title. Further exterior graphics send the message to "harness the power of reading @ your library."

It’s equipped with a dashboard camera that allows the driver to see what’s behind the bus and a public address system. Most recently, that public address system was used to play "The Night Before Christmas" to the crowds lining the streets of Peoria for the Santa Claus Parade. While the Bookmobile was cleverly disguised for the parade with a glowing red nose, expressive reindeer eyes, and antlers attached to the huge, heated rear view mirrors, the crowd seemed to have no trouble recognizing it as the Bookmobile when it rolled down the street.

Step inside and you’ll see sleek wooden shelves, built-in counters, and a book return drop, along with attractive carpeting, chairs, and a custom-built, roomy interior space that will accommodate someone almost seven feet tall. As the bookmobile should last for 20 years, it was custom built to accommodate the future, including space to add two wireless Internet stations some day when the technology is more readily available. The librarian who travels the city with the Bookmobile has the same comforts as building-based librarians: a computer, microwave, and tiny refrigerator for her lunch.

More important than the physical Bookmobile itself is the idea behind the Bookmobile. The mission statement of the Peoria Public Library is "provide all residents books, other printed materials, new technologies, and programs that stimulate personal intellectual growth and development and provide a satisfying experience that nurtures a love of reading and the joy of discovery." The Bookmobile does this in a unique way, carrying a wide variety of materials to the portions of the city that live far from a branch and to residents who might otherwise have a difficult time getting to a library location. Considering that the farthest north branch library, Lakeview, is in the geographic center of the city, the Bookmobile helps to meet a huge gap in services to the northern half of the city.

In one recent month, the Bookmobile served 907 people. It stops at locations such as Lutheran Hillside Village on Galena Road, Rogy’s Educational Center on Candletree, and neighborhood corners like Scottswood Drive and Antler Place. In that same recent month, the Bookmobile checked out 1,929 items.

The Bookmobile, which started humbly with pigs, is a cultural ambassador that every Peorian should point to with pride and delight. Be sure to wave when the Bookmobile passes you on the street and take the next opportunity to step aboard our cruising library. If you’d like more information on the Bookmobile’s route, please visit our Web site at www.peoria.lib.il.us or call 497-2068. See you @ the Library. AA!