The Navajo Bookmobiles of Arizona

The bookmobile takes part in the All Indian World’s Fair and Rodeo Parade, September 1971.  Donald Redbird, a Kiowa, is the driver.

The bookmobile takes part in the All Indian World’s Fair and Rodeo Parade, September 1971. Donald Redbird, a Kiowa, is the driver.

The Bookmobile Visits the Reservation; Flagstaff, Arizona

The Four Corners Mobile Library Project began in 1970 with one bookmobile that served the Navajo and Hopi reservations. A second vehicle was added in 1972. The bookmobiles were sponsored by the Arizona State Library Extension Service, the Four Corners Regional Commission, and a grant from the Library Services and Construction Act. The bookmobiles operated out of offices in Flagstaff and Winslow. Winslow also housed a teletype that was used to locate materials not available locally. Both whites and members of the Navajo and Hopi nations staffed the vehicles, the latter especially crucial because of their ability to speak the native languages. Storytimes were sometimes done in both English and Navajo.

The two bookmobiles served the counties of Apache, Navajo, Coconino and Yavapai. Especially important were the stops in Navajo and Apache counties, since neither had any functioning libraries at the time. While serving Indian populations was the primary goal, the bookmobiles stopped at a variety of isolated pockets in northern Arizona. The trucks visited not only Indian reservations, colleges, and boarding schools, but also lonely work sites such as trading posts, post offices, public health stations, the refineries of El Paso Natural Gas and mines of Peabody Coal, among other places. The names of the stops reflect their uniqueness; Red Mesa, Twin Arrows, Sunset Crater, Cliff Dwellers, Kayenta Trading Post, Navajo National Monument, Blue Ride Ranger Station, Coal Mine Mesa, etc. At some of the stops, such as ranger stations, colleges and chapter houses, the vehicles routinely dropped of a deposit collection. The bookmobiles also regularly brought picture books to over two dozen head start classes. By 1972, the two bookmobiles had a combined total of 85 stops, some of them accessible only by dirt road.

Books about Native Americans were in high demand, especially those dealing with history, folklore, contemporary issues, and native arts and crafts. There was also high demand for the practical, such as books on GED preparation, basic math and English improvement, carpentry, livestock skills, and the “always present demand for dictionaries.” During the summer, the bookmobile often coordinated with local cultural events such as art fairs and parades. That the schools were closed over the summer didn’t make the bookmobiles any less busy. Children often checked out books for their parents.


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