“Here Comes The Bookmobile!”

by, Jo Carol Hebert

1952 – The Good Old Days

One hot, summer morning, the children stopped their play.

“Is it time?” his sister asked. “Will it come today?”

(Her brother, Ty, was almost nine;

he could almost tell the time.)

“It’s always here. It’s coming soon.

every Tuesday, right at noon”.

“That’s too long”, his sister sighed.

“That’s too far away”, she cried.

“You can come and play with me,”

cried a voice from the tree.

Sue was hanging upside down. 

Her hair was hanging to the ground.

“Climb up in the tree with me.

We can pass the time up here.

Then, they saw the yellow van.

Down the dusty road they ran.

Rumbling across the ground,

The Bookmobile had come to town!

The children looked through the many books neatly lined up on shelves inside the Bookmobile. Ty was a good reader. He looked for the book he wanted. He heard about it from his friend who said it was a really good book about a boy and his dog. “You must mean,‘Where the Red Fern Grows”, by Wilson Rawls,’ said the friendly Librarian that was driving the bus.

Ty was excited to have the book in his hand. He also found “Charlotte’s Web” to read to his little sister and found her some books about dinosaurs.

Sue liked to read Nancy Drew mysteries and was thrilled to get “The Hidden Staircase”. Finally, it was time to ‘check out’ the books to take home. Ty and Sue had their own library card with their name on it. The Librarian stamped their cards with the date to remind them when to bring the books back to the Bookmobile. 

Three happy children with bags full of books waved good-by as the yellow van faded away down the road.

Early Libraries On the Move

1838-1839 – Frontier Transportation Library. By 1838, America was composed of 26 states. The ‘American School Library of New York’ traveled around frontier towns of the nation. Their purpose was to offer a set of 50 educational books published by Harper and Brothers to every school in the country.

1905 – Mary Lemist Titcomb: The Librarian Who Wouldn’t Keep Quiet.

“Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and visible signs of the service for which the Library stands, do much more in cementing friendships?” Is it not Washington County with its good roads especially well adjusted for testing an experiment of this kind for the geography of the county is such as could be comfortably covered by well-planned routes?”

Mary was a persistent advocate of community library ‘outreach’ to sparsely populated areas. Finally, The Washington County Library Board in Maryland heartily agreed. Joshua Thomas, the Library Janitor, hooked up two mules to a peddler’s cart and helped disburse the precious books across the county. This unique service continued successfully until 1910, when the mobile library was hit by a train. No one was injured, but the books did not fare well. The idea of ‘traveling libraries’ caught the public fancy and spread across the nation. In 1912, Washington County had a ‘motorized’ bookmobile.

1920 – Sarah Byrd Askew: Model-T Bookmobile. A Model-T Ford motorized car took library books into rural areas of New Jersey. But, cars were rare, and the horse or mule-pulled cart was the most common book wagon.

1929 – ‘Pegasus’, the Bookmobile. Named after the mythical, white flying horse, this first Washington state bookmobile, a customized Model T Ford,  was sent out by the Everett Public Library. It served 20 years until it was sold to haul sand and gravel. Fortunately, it was bought, restored, and is now in the local museum.

1935-1938 – ‘’Pack Horse Librarians”. Books were packed on horses or carried by foot to reach remote mountain people of Kentucky and Appalachia Mountains.  Kentucky still has the most operating bookmobiles in the nation.  

1950s-1990s – was the most popular era for bookmobiles.

Did You Know?

  • An Artist in Buenas Aires, Argentina, converted a 1979 Ford Falcon into a bookmobile that traveled the city streets, giving books to anyone who “promises to read them”.
  • ‘Biblioburros’ is a bookmobile concept by a Teacher in Columbia, South America. He and his two donkeys, Alfa and Beta went around to rural villages.
  • A Kenya, Africa ‘Camelmobile’, has books translated  into English, Somali, and Swahili.
  • Zimbabwe has a donkey-drawn’ Electro-Communication Library Cart’ for radio, telephone, fax, email; and internet services to rural areas.
  • An ‘Elephant Mobile’ lumbers across Thailand in Asia with books and tech equipment to remote hill villages.
  • ‘Donkey Mobiles’ cover remote areas of Ethiopia and Somalia for eager readers.
  • A ‘Bibliomotocarro’ van with glass doors in Italy, by a retired school teacher who plays an organ to announce the arrival of books.
  • Great Britain had a traveling library as early as 1857.
  • The Mayor of St. Pancras, London, brought books to areas bombed out from WWII.
  • Indonesia has a ‘Kuda Pustaka’ (horse library). The librarian rides a horse named ‘Luna’, brings books to villagers, and visits schools.
  • India has “Boat Libraries’.

Bookmobiles Forever!

Today, excited children and book-loving adults still enjoy the outreach services of Public Libraries around the world.  The traveling library is no longer employed as a primary distributor of books. But people who love learning will always find a way to get a book to people in need. The mayor of  St. Pancras said, “People without books are like houses without windows”. 

Lycoming County in Williamsport, Pennsylvania is vamping up their bookmobile program with three new bookmobiles that travel to shopping centers, elder homes, and schools. And there are NO LATE FEES!

During the month of April, Smarty Pants wishes to thank every Librarian personnel who has given another person access to a book. We can never know how much one book could change a person’s life.

Categories: History

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