The First Bookmobiles, Part Two


The “book bus” of Hibbing, Minnesota, had its own stove for long winter trips. Circa 1918.

Other libraries followed the example set by Washington County’s Autobuggy. In Hibbing, Minnesota (then known as “the richest village in the world”), a truck large enough for 1000 books was purchased in 1918. It could accommodate as many as six people and was staffed by a librarian at her desk. This “book bus” was the first bookmobile where patrons could walk inside. It stopped at many of the local mining camps, where “Finns and Swedes gather into respective circles and select one of their number to read to them.” Once, when the truck couldn’t reach a camp due to a washout, an Italian miner walked three miles to get more books for the men.

"The Pied Piper" of Evanston.

The “Pied Piper” of Evanston, circa 1920.

Evanston, Illinois soon followed suit in 1920 with a bookmobile that was the first to be used in a city, serving neighborhoods not reached by streetcar. The “Book Auto” was a Chevy sold at cost to the library, converted to carry books with free help from local workmen. Women’s groups and other civic organizations paid for the entire venture. A librarian and driver team manned the Book Auto, Inez Potter and Henry Lee (Lee, like other early bookmobile drivers, doubled as the library’s janitor). Initially it ran almost like an ice cream truck, stopping every two blocks, blowing its horn, and waiting for customers. Not for nothing the bookmobile would later be dubbed the “Pied Piper”. Former driver Charles Ferran wrote; “’Honk! Honk! Honk!’ goes an automobile horn on the corner… the children understand it and come flocking from all over the neighborhood crying, ’Libraree! Libraree!’” Not only was it the first city bookmobile, it was also most likely the first where the librarian read stories to children. The Book Auto also stocked plenty of adult titles, and one of its stops included the Mark Manufacturing Company. For the sake of the many immigrants, librarian Ida F. Wright loaded the Chevy with books in German, Italian, Polish, Swedish and Norwegian.

Soon after, Dayton, Ohio became the first major city to invest in a traveling library. In 1920, Perthsire County, England, was the first county in the U.K. to get a “mobile library”. By the mid-1920s, it was clear that horseless carriages were changing the way people accessed books.

Next week: The library that traveled by train!


“Evanston Library on Wheels.” Illinois Libraries. Vol. 2 .3 July  (1920): 63. Print.

Mason, Frank, and Titcomb, Mary Lemist. Book Wagons: The County Library with Rural Book Delivery. Chicago: American Library Association, 1922. 4. Print.

Ferran, Charles. “Shouts of Joy Greet Arrival of Book Auto.” Evanston Review [Evanston] 9/17/ 1925,  n. pag. Print.

“Evanston Tradition Survives – Bookmobile Rolls On.” Evanston Review [Evanston] 05 11 1986,  n. pag. Print.

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2 Responses to The First Bookmobiles, Part Two

  1. Jeni says:

    I really like this blog. Very interesting especially vis-a-vis our online lives. Well researched and well written.

  2. Pingback: Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About the Library #7: The Pied Piper of Evanston |

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