El Numero Cinco and La Biblioteca Ambulante: Taking Books to Migrants

Biblioteca Ambulante Jul 1996

“La Biblioteca Ambulante”. Courtesy of the Fresno County Free Library.

Starting in 1969, the Denver Public Library began to reach out to the local Spanish-speaking population, a group that had not been using their services, by means of a bookmobile. The fifth truck to join the fleet (hence the name “El Numero Cinco”) was launched in June of 1969. The stops were in five city parks. The staff set up folding chairs, tables and umbrellas at each stop. It carried books in Spanish and English, along with games, records, and art prints. Besides providing materials, the three bilingual staff also showed movies through the rear window (in the same style as that of the Fitchburg Public Library). There were art and guitar lessons as well.

Starting in 1968, the San Joaquin Valley Library System, in Fresno, CA, sent a bookmobile to serve the migrant workers who flocked to the area every year during grape-picking season. “La Biblioteca Ambulante” served 33 locations, primarily Mexican communities and migrant camps. Due to the unique population, a few adjustments were made. The staff were bilingual, the materials mostly in Spanish. Patrons could check out books after filling out a basic 3 x 5 card, no ID needed. There were neither fines nor overdue notices. Staff went door-to-door in communities, handing out flyers announcing the bookmobile’s arrival the day before. The Ambulante also maintained a series of deposit stations in branch libraries, Community Action and Head Start centers.  The Ambulante’s arrival was always announced with Herb Alpert’s Spanish Flea blaring from the speakers. In addition to books, the bookmobile provided records (a hit with teenagers) and showed movies, the most popular being Spanish-dubbed Disney films. Initially, the venture was funded with an LSCA (Library Services and Construction Act) grant, which ran out in 1975.  It then became property of the Fresno County Library System and, along with the bookmobile already owned by Fresno, continued to serve migrant camps. Further budget cuts reduced the number of people it could serve.

Stanislaus County, California’s bookmobile served migrant camps in the 70s and for a time, had a separate vehicle, the Green Bus, which was used solely to bring materials to migrant camps and housing. The Green Bus was killed by the tax-cutting measure Proposition 13, but the regular bookmobile still visited the camps.

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One Response to El Numero Cinco and La Biblioteca Ambulante: Taking Books to Migrants

  1. john havelka says:

    Wow, I never imagined bookmobiles in such rugged places! Very cool stuff!

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