Library delivers words to the wise

Mystery. Adventure. Humor. History. Suspense. Travel. Entertainment. Knowledge. Community. Friendships. Books with all of these exciting elements can be found at the Mesa County Libraries.

The library staff is dedicated to making sure everyone in our community has access to these books, no matter their age, ability or health. So if patrons aren’t physically able to visit the nearest library location, the library will come to them.

Words on Wheels (WOW) has delivered books to residents from Palisade to Fruita since 1997. Five drivers make bi-weekly deliveries to 250 patrons at home and in retirement or assisted living facilities.

“I’m Words on Wheels’ biggest fan,” said patron Martha Braunig, 89. “I remember being an avid library user since before I could see over the checkout desk. I love to listen to books on tape about murder mysteries, adventure and strong woman roles.”

WOW enables the library to keep playing a huge role in her life, despite health issues that prevent her from driving. When Library Assistant Denise Okeson arrives with a delivery every other Friday, the two friends immediately start chatting and laughing.

“I’m hugely reliant on my darling Denise and the wonderful books she brings me,” said Braunig.

Okeson said she works hard to make her deliveries a special experience for each person, and that’s part of the beauty of the WOW program.

“Words on Wheels is a well-used staple of Mesa County Libraries’ services,” said Austin Mullenix, head of the libraries’ public services department. “A great part of the program is that many of these people are homebound and don’t have a lot of contact with the community. It’s not uncommon for our drivers to establish meaningful relationships with these folks.”

How it works

To get started in the WOW program, patrons simply place a call to the Central Library. Library staff will review services and eligibility, keep a record of each patron’s favorite authors, genres, likes and dislikes, and set up a delivery date. Readers don’t even have to be home for the delivery, as a canvas book bag can be left at the door.

WOW patrons can check out books and audiobooks for four weeks at a time and DVDs for two weeks. Computer-savvy folks may place holds online, which are then flagged for delivery. Otherwise, giving a list to the driver or calling the library does the trick. Specific requests are honored depending on availability.

“The most popular resources range from audiobooks, to DVDs, to large-print books,” said Mullenix. “There are no overdue fines for the Words on Wheels program. We really try to be compassionate with this community of patrons.”

WOW isn’t the only option available to readers. Mesa County residents who are unable to visit the library and live in outlying areas such as Glade Park and Mesa can use the Books by Mail service. Materials are mailed for free, along with a prepaid return envelope.

Patrons are also starting to use e-readers, which can make the text larger. Another free option, the Denver-based Colorado Talking Book Library, provides audiobooks, Braille and large-print books and magazines to Coloradans who are unable to read standard print material.

A rewarding experience

It’s difficult to tell who gets more out of WOW—the patrons or the delivery staff.

“I get thanked over and over again by people,” said Okeson. “They can’t wait to see what’s in the bag, especially if I’ve picked them out. It’s like Christmas. There is a misconception that homebound people lead boring lives, but these people have very rich lives, deep thoughts, opinions and active minds.”

Okeson is amazed by how much WOW patrons can read. Every two weeks, she takes 16 books to one woman, who reads every single one.

“Our WOW patrons are voracious readers,” said Public Information Manager Bob Kretschman.


Okeson said she enjoys the hunt for the perfect books for patrons.

“Some give me a list and others say ‘Just pick something good. I trust your judgment,’” she said. “One Spanish-speaking patron leaves me candy if he likes what I’ve picked.”

Library Assistant Andy Hamilton has been a driver for five years and loves hearing patrons’ fascinating stories about World War II and their own lives.

“If you’re the only person someone sees in a day, being able to make them happy or chat with them is very rewarding,” said Hamilton. “I get the chance to build relationships and bond with people. They tell me how they depend on and appreciate this great service so much. It’s a service that I hope exists when I’m that age.”

“A wonderful service”

“Patrons tell us they don’t know what they would do without this service, as reading means so much to them,” said Mullenix.

Legally blind, Dorothy Hawkins, 96, is a huge advocate for Words on Wheels.

“It’s a wonderful service,” said Hawkins. “I’m surprised at how many people don’t know about it. I prefer my audiobooks any day over television.

Ruth Banker, 92, eagerly awaits Okeson’s visit every other Friday, with 10 new, large-print books in tow.

“I used to haunt libraries but have had too many falls,” she said. “Denise makes such a great effort to find good books for me. This is such a wonderful program for people who can’t get out anymore.”

The library staff agrees.

“Words on Wheels is one of those hidden gems that we provide,” said Kretschman.

For more information about Words on Wheels and eligibility, call 243-4442.

Melanie Wiseman

Melanie Wiseman

Melanie Wiseman is passionate about writing and loves sharing the stories of family, love, volunteering and adventure of the people she interviews. Raised in Wisconsin, she has called western Colorado home for more than 30 years. She loves traveling, reading, photography, hiking, camping, biking, cross-country skiing and exploring the outdoors with her husband, Dan, and Papillon, Abby.
Melanie Wiseman

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