Mary Titcomb’s “Book Wagon”. Courtesy of the Washington County Free Library.
Mary Titcomb, librarian of the Washington County Free Library, Maryland, is generally credited with launching the first bookmobile. Initially, she used a horse-drawn wagon to deliver books throughout the county, with the central library established in Hagerstown. The staff dropped off crates of books at local deposit stations located, according to Titcomb, “In county stores, some in creameries, others at the toll-gates, the post office, or maybe in a private house.” The stations were spread out, so Titcomb proposed, “A wagon fitted with book shelves going over the mountain roads, stopping at each house.” The library janitor, Joshua Thomas, was employed to do the actual driving and soon the book wagon was making stops at farmers’ houses all over the county. This was different than the bookmobiles of the future in that it made personal house calls, rather than the more common method of making stops that people came to. The system was a success, but in 1910 a freight train destroyed the wagon, putting personal book delivery service on hiatus. This wound up being an opportunity to bring book deliveries into the 20th century. In 1912 the library board purchased an International Harvester truck instead of a wagon.
An easy job? A man, possibly Elmer Corderman, stands next to the world’s first bookmobile, an International Harvester Autobuggy. Courtesy of the Washington County Free Library.
The truck was outfitted with shelves for 300 books, with enough room inside for
four deposit station cases. Elmer Corderman was hired as a “chauffer” accompanied by Nellie Chrissinger as a librarian, creating the world’s first bookmobile driver and librarian team. With the ability to cover more ground, demand increased, so much so that the Harvester was replaced with a bigger Koehler truck in 1915.
Washington County’s 2nd Book Truck, a Koehler, circa 1915. Courtesy of the Washington County Free Library.
The unique book delivery system was a hit, and other libraries would soon follow. In less than a decade America would see the first bookmobile in a city, the first that ran county-wide, and the first that people could actually enter. While the phrase “bookmobile” was not yet in the American lexicon (“book bus” or “book auto” being the words of choice), the ground had been laid.
More on the second wave of bookmobiles next week!
Titcomb, Mary Lemist and Mason, Mary Frank . (1922). Book Wagons: The County Library With Rural Book Delivery. (p. 4). Chicago: ALA.
Western Maryland Historical Library. Retrieved from http://www.whilbr.org/itemdetail.aspx?idEntry=130 on 1/25/2013