Tag: libraries

A Brief History of Bookmobiles

Hi folks, Winnie Griggs here.
Lately I’ve noticed several photos of early bookmobiles circulating on Facebook and it got me to wondering about the history of these literary vehicles. So of course I had to dive in and do a bit of research. Here is a little taste of what I discovered.

  • Bookmobiles have been around since the 1850s. It was during this period that the Perambulating Library made its appearance in the UK.
  • The US was a bit slower to implement this service. In 1893 Melvil Dewey led the effort to implement something called Travelling Collections. By 1899 there were 2500 of these travelling collections across the country.
  • In 1903 Wisconsin began using wagons to deliver books to schools.
  • It wasn’t until 1905 that the first US library, The Washington County Free Library, specifically designed a wagon to be used as a bookmobile. This effort was headed by Mary Titcomb who patterned it after the service in the UK.  The wagon was driven by the library janitor, Joshua Thomas.
  • 1912  saw the introduction of the first motorized vehicles, allowing the libraries to greatly expand their range of service.
  • The term bookmobile was first used in January of 1929.
  • The use of vehicles was greatly curtailed during the Great Depression, but that did not shut down the system. For example, women used pack horses in Kentucky, and in Mississippi a librarian used a house boat to provide mobile library services.
  • During the following years the number of bookmobiles in the country fluctuated as factors like wartime, the cost of fuel, and economic upswings and downturns impacted finances and materials.
  • The Everett County Public Library’s bookmobile (called Pegasus after the mythological flying horse) was purchased in 1924, making it the first bookmobile in Washington State. It was retired in 1950, then restored in the 1990s, making it the oldest still-operational bookmobile.
  • The state with the most bookmobiles is Kentucky.

Fun facts from around the world:

  • Zimbabwe utilizes a donkey-draw bookmobile that, in addition to providing books, also provides some technology services.
  • Kenya has the Camel Library Service with a collection of over 7000 books
  • Thailand has elephant-drawn libraries
  • Some coastal communities in Norway have their library needs met by itinerant ships

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As for me, I have very fond memories of bookmobiles. The first elementary school I attended didn’t have a library so the bookmobile came by every other week. It was always a treat to step inside and see so many books in one place. And since I have always LOVED books and reading, it was even more magical to pick out one to take home with me.

What about you? Do you have any personal experience with a bookmobile?And what information in the post above did you find most surprising?

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