BROOKSVILLE — Every summer, educators face the same problem.
With schools on break, many students lose access to their primary source of books. They might not have any at home. Some can't find transportation to a library.
It means students can lose months of learning in what's commonly known as the "summer slide."
Hernando County officials have come up with a new way to address the issue: the book van.
Beginning Monday, a book-laden Hernando County Public Library van will begin driving into the community, giving youngsters easy access to grade-appropriate titles.
"We're hoping if we get the reading materials out to them, then that gives them another avenue to continue reading," said Sheryl Fell, the library experience coordinator at the county's public library.
The van will be out once a week on Mondays, following around the Cruisin' Cafe, a converted Hernando school bus that brings nutritious meals to kids and teenagers during summer break.
The book van will try to capitalize on the Cruisin' Cafe's crowds. In its first year of operation, the bus provided nearly 2,300 meals.
The book van and Cruisin' Cafe will make two stops, including one at Delta Woods Park in Spring Hill and another at the Elks Lodge on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Brooksville.
Youngsters will be able to check out books and get library cards. Those who are unable to get a library card — for example, if they can't get a parent's or guardian's signature — will have access to free books.
"We're going to do anything we can to get books in their hands," said Fell.
The book van is the brainchild of Mary Dysart, a media specialist at Nature Coast Technical High School.
She said she was reading an article about how many teenagers slide over the summer, failing to read or eat healthy meals. The idea of adding a book element to the Cruisin' Cafe hit her.
"It's food for the tummy and food for the mind," she said.
Dysart said the project is about promoting literacy in general.
"There's something magical when a person can read a book they really love," she said. "School in general becomes more meaningful."
The county library system, which already owns the van, will shoulder the costs for the project, providing the staff, gas and books for checkout. Both the school district and library will donate books that can be given to people who are unable to get a library card.
Library and school officials say the program will start off small, with a selection of books for elementary, middle and high school students.
They hope to see it grow.
"I think it's going to be very successful," said Dysart. "I think this is just the first step."
Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.