The First Mobile Library? Mealsgate, England


John Sanderson, the great-grandfather of bookmobile drivers everywhere. Many thanks to for posting this image. 

One of the first roving library systems was the “Permabulating Library” set up in a clique of villages near Carlisle, Great Britain, in 1851. The driving force behind it was local philanthropist George Moore. Working with Richard Abbatt and a J. P. Foster, the men arranged for a series of deposit stations to be set up in nine villages of northwest England; Ireby, Torpenhow, Bothel, Mealsgate, Crookdale, Bolton, Low Houses, Boltongate, Sandale and Uldale. Boxes of books were rotated between the villages, a volunteer librarian appointed at each station. Subscribers paid a penny a month or a shilling a year. The collection was switched out every six weeks by a messenger who wheeled the cases on foot. The messenger, John Sanderson, was a “noted walker”, reportedly having once strolled 150 miles in 48 hours. The libraries were a big success, with the books almost always out, and “the country people were thus induced to read good books.”

An article from the 1857 publication The British Workman described the Perambulating Library thus:

“We have been much interested by hearing from a gentleman who recently travelled in Cumberland, of a happy looking old man who was wheeling along the high road a novel looking burden. On enquiry, it proved to be the Perambulating Library ; the large box containing a supply of books which the messenger was taking from Mealsgate to Bolton New Houses. On depositing his burden, he would then have to take the books which had been in use at Bolton New Houses forward to another village, and so on for a circle of eight villages, comprising in addition to the above.”

George Moore, Merchant and Philanthropist by Samuel Smiles. London, New York, G. Routledge and Sons, 1878. Pages 154-155

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