Saturday, June 19, 2010, a community fundraiser event was held to benefit the Four County Library System's Cybermobile. The Cybermobile (lovingly nicknamed CyMo) is a large RV that has been fitted out as a library.Â Every month, on a set schedule, CyMo travels throughout Broome, Chenango, Delaware, and Otsego Counties -- the four counties we serve -- with stops in communities without libraries and at institutions such as senior centers, jails, and juvenile detention centers, bringing books, audiobooks, DVDs, and (in some instances) internet access to their patrons.
The fundraiser was held at our local Barnes & Noble store (with whom we have an excellent working relationship) and we parked CyMo in front of the store, doors wide open, to encourage tours of the interior and conversation about how and why we provide this particular community service.Â Stories have been written about traveling libraries in other countries and in parts of the U.S. perceived as being poor/rural. New York State doesn't leap to mind as another area in need of such a service because our upstate, rural areas are perceptually eclipsed and obscured by the wealth and density of New York City.Â This is why funding for our traveling library is one of the first things to be threatened when it's time for budget cuts.
In addition to offering tours of CyMo (during which patrons were able to check out books, or obtain a library card if they didnâ€™t have one yet) our Youth Services and Community Outreach Director, Starr, managed to obtain a Library Mouse costume, so that we might have a storybook character on hand to greet children. Since I love Daniel Kirkâ€™s Library Mouse books, I volunteered for Mouse Duty.
Being Library Mouse ("LM") wasn't quite the experience Iâ€™d expected, though. The head of the costume was rather heavy, and while I'd initially thought it rested on shoulders, the weight actually was on my head, via an inner framework, so it was weight on my neck for several hours. I arrived at 9:30am for the stint, got in costume by 10, and out of costume a little after noon.
There were a fair number of children who saw LM, and more than half kept their distance. The first toddler who saw "me" screamed in terror, despite being safely in his father's arms. While many older folks wanted their photos taken with LM â€“ adults and school-age youth, mostly -- the question I heard most often was "Is it hot in there?" Answer: yup.
Inside the LM costume, I discovered several things. Aside from the heat of the costume, there was an inability to understand my relationship with the rest of the world -- I had no idea how tall or wide I was, how my mittened gestures appeared to others.Â Most disconcerting of all, the sign I had posed with when I began my Mouse Duty was moved away from right next to me, and I never heard or saw it happen.
I wasn't able to wear my (distance vision) eyeglasses inside the mask, so I was already at a disadvantage, but the eyes, with their net coverings, cut back even further on my available light.Â The result was a black-and-white world without clues color might have given.Â I'd see the store doors move and people-shaped shadows moving near them, but it was impossible to determine whether people were entering or leaving the store.Â When people were wise enough to get within 2 feet of me and stand slightly to one side where I could actually see them through one of the eye holes, we were able to interact.
After an hour indoors, I was moved outside to a shady spot where a sturdy breeze was blowing refreshing air; this created a whole new problem. The air flowed in through the eye holes of the mask and pushed the head around! Now, in addition to poor vision that left me without a frame of reference or horizon, intermittent gusts of wind tossed the head around like a wind sock.Â The first few gusts were unsettling, but I learned to keep my back to the wind.
Over the course of my two-hour Mouse Shift, I taught myself how to walk and dance in boots that quadrupled the size of my feet, learned how to look nonthreatening as a giant rodent, and how to behave cheerfully when folks interacting with me cannot see my smile. I'm not sure of how much I was able to encourage people to tour the Cybermobile or make purchases in support of that marvelous rolling information center, but, as always, a day spent with the library proved educational.