Happy National Bookmobile Day

Hey all! April 16th is National Bookmobile Day. Attempts to make this a legal holiday have not come through. In the meantime, enjoy this clip of bookmobiles on parade. Every year the American Library Association, there is a parade of bookmobiles. Have fun!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOvncBdXJ7oBookmobile parade

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The Free Wheeler of Philadelphia


In 1971 the Free Library of Philadelphia  launched the “Free Wheeler.” This small van provided “on-the-street library service” in the local Model Cities Area projects. The staff parked at street corners, set up an umbrella, and lent out paperbacks to the mostly black and Latino population. During the winter, the Free Wheeler maintained a series of deposit stations in barber shops, mental health centers, and doctor’s offices, among other places. Materials could be returned to any other station. The Free Wheeler also published and distributed pamphlets detailing local social services.

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The Cybermobile of the Catskills


Starting in January of 2001, the Four County Library System, headquartered in Vestal, NY, began sending out “The Cybermobile”. While not the first to provide library patrons with internet access, this bookmobile was the first in America to do so by satellite. Located on the outskirts of the Catskills, the four counties of Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Otsego are so isolated as to not even be completely accessible by land line. Satellite was quickly determined the best way to bring the Web to the Cybermobile’s 60 plus stops. It had a 1.2-meter controllable rooftop satellite dish antenna and full-time access with 100% closed network capability, essentially the same method used by the military to bring communication to remote areas. The vehicle boasted six ThinkPad notebook computers (courtesy of IBM) and two printers. The $295,000 cost of the project was covered by grants and other support, including a $50,000 New York State Senate initiative, a $105,000 federal appropriation from US Senator Charles Schumer and US Representative Maurice Hinchey, as well as grants from five private foundations and the Verizon Foundation. The Cybermobile was also supported by Federal Library Services and Technology Act funds.

Note: The Cybermobile needs your help if it is to continue! Click below for details:



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The Book Boats of Lake Chelan, Washington


Jo Pardee oversees the books being loaded by crane onto a ship.

In 1951 Jo Pardee, head librarian of the Chelan County Library in Washington
State, managed to secure funds to bring books to small towns located on Lake
Chelan, deep in the mountains. Jo loaded her station wagon with crates of books
and drove to the dock at 25 Mile Creek. The books traveled by boat up the
narrow lake and were redistributed in local towns. In Lucerne, the books were unloaded by crane before being driven by bus to the mountain mining town of Holden.


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The Bookmobile That Became a Real Library; Collinsville, Pennsylvania


The Collinsville Community Library was bookmobile permanently parked in a discount center parking lot. Courtesy, Collinsville Library.

On rare occasions, a bookmobile turns into a real library. When York County, PN.,  was appropriated a meager $40,000 to bring library services to two communities, Collinsville librarian Evelyn Minick paid $350 for a rusted-out bookmobile. Local artist Lillian Hill refurbished it and later became its volunteer librarian. In October of 1980,  stocked with 2,500 paperbacks, records and magazines, the converted bookmobile opened its two doors for the first time, in a discount center parking lot. There it sat, open 40 hours a week, staffed by a combination of volunteers and paid staff. It had two solar panels in the back and was dubbed the “solar library” (“When the sun shines, they are more than adequate as a heating source.” ) Otherwise, a propane heater kept the  mini-library warm.

In 1982 the Solar Library was replaced by a trailer. Seven years later the Philadelphia Electric Company donated a couple of unused trailers to expand the library again. To this day the library is three trailers rolled into one structure.

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The Outpost Libraries of West Virginia


An newly-inserted outpost library in West Virginia.

Due to the energy crisis of the 70s, it became a common practice for bookmobiles to hit fewer stops for longer periods of time. Sometimes, these bookmobiles would be parked all day at the same spot, making the vehicle more of a traveling library branch, or “branchmobile.”

The branchmobile concept was taken to an extreme in West Virginia. This mountainous state had long used bookmobiles to reach isolated areas, but driving large trucks on the icy roads was dangerous and difficult. Starting in 1973, the state began to use instant libraries, also known as “outpost libraries.” The library was a narrow house that could be pulled by a tractor trailer, then left in one place indefinitely. After some basic construction, a town could then instantly have a library branch. These outpost libraries could carry about 8,000 books. Later, the state used “modular libraries”, which were larger, able to hold approximately 15,000 volumes. There were 65 of these portable buildings by 1986 operating in the backwoods of West Virginia.


Patrons enjoy an outpost library.

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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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