Before the Automobile: The First Mobile Libraries


The perambulating library of Warrington.

While a couple of my earlier posts dealt with the first bookmobiles, they were not the first example of library books being brought to people by use of a vehicle. The first recorded example of people borrowing books from a mobile library is in Warrington, England. Called a “perambulating library”, it was organized by The Mechanics Institute in 1859, which paid 275 pounds total for the van, horse and books. Mechanics Institutes were organizations that built subscription libraries for working class men, using dues paid by the workers themselves. These libraries were part of a larger movement on behalf of the Institutes to bring education to people who couldn’t afford it otherwise. During the book wagon’s first year, over 12,000 books were borrowed.

Orton, Ian. An Illustrated History of Mobile Library Services in the United Kingdom: With Notes on Travelling Libraries and Early Public Library Transport. Branch and Mobile Libraries Group, 1980.

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