The Unique Bookmobiles of the 1930s


The bookmobile of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, circa 1937. Note the snow chains. Courtesy of the Public Archives and Records Office of Prince Edward Island, RG10/P-4.

The first publication to describe bookmobile services was a 1937 study called simply Book Automobiles, complied by the American Library Association. Many of the “bookmobiles” described therein stretched the definition of the term.  At the time no company manufactured bookmobiles en masse, forcing libraries to reconfigure existing cars. These unique vehicles included:

Vanderburg County, IN-  A Ford Roadster with a box in the back that held 150 books and a shelf that folded down for a charging desk.

Haines Falls, NY – Rented a mail truck by the hour, attaching bookshelves in the back.

Ventrua, CA – used a Ford v8 pickup, building shelves on the back.

Pleasantville, NY – Installed shelves in the rumble seat of a Chevy coupe. (“They find record keeping difficult in a small car.”)

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada – Used a Chevy Coupe with a shelving unit for about 400 books that could be displayed out of the trunk. A heavier car was deemed impractical for the icy roads.

St. Albans, VT- Removed the rear seat of a Chevy coach and lined the walls with books shelves. (“One or two persons at a time may have access to the shelves by tipping the front seat forward.”)

Haverhill, Mass- Rented a passenger bus on a weekly basis, which included the driver. The bus company removed the seats and put in sloping wall shelves and a desk. It was set up so the equipment could easily be removed and converted back into a bus.  Starting in 1932, the “book bus” went out every Wednesday and carried about 600 volumes. Patrons had the novel option of phoning the main library with requests to be brought out next time.



Front and side views of the “book bus” of Haverhill, Mass.

Courtesy of the Trustees of the Haverhill Public Library.

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