The Book Caravan comes to town. Courtesy of The Horn Book, Inc.
In 1920 one of the first – and still one of the only – traveling bookshops took to the road; the Book Caravan. The Caravan was a traveling branch of the Bookshop for Boys and Girls, headquartered in Boston. The Bookshop was a combination bookstore/library, a business that sold books but also organized story times and other activities for children. Taking the Bookshop on the road was the brainchild of Bertha Mahony, who had founded the shop as an adjunct of the Boston Women’s Educational and Industrial Union (she would later start The Horn Book Magazine, a periodical devoted to children’s books). Starting in 1920 and following a mapped-out schedule, the Book Caravan made dozens of stops in the New England area. At each post the employees unfurled the green-and-white awning, set out a couple of chairs, and opened their doors to customers. The bookshop-on-wheels primarily held titles for children, with only a few adult books thrown in to appease the parents. In addition to a bookstore, visitors were sometimes treated to an occasional author visit or guest lecturer. The staff, mostly children’s librarians, also did impromptu story times. The Caravan (a converted Stewart Motor Truck) and its travels were sponsored by publishers. This required the sales-women to carry only books published by their sponsors, though they were willing to order any book their customers wished. The Caravan also had to stop in wealthy neighborhoods and posh resorts in order to make ends meet. Mahony was pleased to learn that they sold just as many if not more books in the less affluent districts, and that servants often bought more than their employers. Unfortunately the Caravan wasn’t able to turn a profit and was disbanded after a couple of years. The vehicle would go on to serve as a bookmobile in upstate New York.
A couple of “Caravaners” service the traveling bookstore. Courtesy of The Horn Book, Inc.
The Library Journal, June 15th 1921, page 558..
“Treasure Island by the Roadside.” Bader, Barbara. The Horn Book Magazine, Jan/Feb 1999. 75; 1. pg. 4