America’s 2nd Bookmobile

1916 bookmobile PPL


Plainfield’s “Auto-Book-Wagon,” 1916.

Courtesy of the Indiana Room; Plainfield-Guilford Township Public Library.

Plainfield, Indiana, is most likely the sight of America’s second bookmobile. In 1909 Plainfield librarian Mayme C. Snipes set up a series of deposit stations in the surrounding area, boxes of books mostly kept in schools. In her 1915 annual report she voiced concern that while the deposit station network helped, only 25 percent of rural patrons had access to books. To solve this gap, she advocated using the new technology of automobiles. The board agreed, and purchased a Ford chassis in 1916. A local wagon maker built the body, with shelves on both sides and a runway in the middle for storing magazines, art prints, and extra books. The entire vehicle and retrofitting cost $608.

The Auto-Book-Wagon hit the road in the summer of 1916. The truck drew mixed reactions at first, encountering the same problem of other early bookmobiles in people not understanding the concept. The Ford was often mistaken for an ambulance, medicine wagon, sometimes a popcorn truck. But ultimately the rural patrons came to look forward to the Auto-Book-Wagon’s trips. The Wagon was able to reach each registered family every five to six weeks, letting each farmhouse take as much time as they needed.

The Auto-Book-Wagon was retired in January, 1924

Miller, Ida Mae. “Plainfield’s Auto-Book-Wagon.” Focus on Indiana Libraries, vol. 23, 1969. Pgs. 26-31.

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