The Branchmobile of Mansfield, Ohio


The branchmobile of Mansfield, OH, circa 1980. Courtesy, the Sherman Room Collection, Mansfield/Richland County Public Library.


In the 60’s and 70’s it became increasingly common to park book trailers at certain locations for days at a time, turning the bookmobile into a portable library branch, or “branchmobile.” This was due to Gerstenslager and other companies making large trailers specifically for the purpose of hauling library books. The energy crisis of the 1970s also compelled libraries to come up with ways of using less gas. The branchmobile of the Mansfield, Ohio Public Library began serving outlying areas in the late 50s and was discontinued in 1989. An 80s expansion of the library branch system largely made the unit obsolete.

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The Floating Library of Southeast Alaska


A couple of Alaskan children walk the plank from the Anna Jackman.

In 1972 Presbyterian missioners Zelma and Lawrence Doig used their craft, the M.V. Anna Jackman, to deliver library books to the roughly 8,000 people living in southeastern Alaska’s remote coves and bays. Zelma Doig, a former librarian, worked at the behest of the Alaska State Library, which was looking for new ways to promote its services. The boat carried about 400 books, along with some cassettes and battery-operated tape-players for the sake of those without reliable electricity. The boat also delivered books patrons had requested through Alaska State Library’s books-by-mail program.  The floating library primarily visited isolated logging and fishing towns, including Hanus Bay, Five Finger Lighthouse, and Meyer’s Chuck.

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Kenosha and the Last of the Big Rigs


Kenosha’s “RIG”, seen here when just-purchased in 1987, ran until 2004 and represented the end of an era. Photo, Kenosha News.

In the 60s and 70s, it wasn’t uncommon for a bookmobile to be a 40-foot-long, 18-wheeler tractor-trailer. Increased regulations in the 80s meant that such vehicles could only be driven by a licensed trucker, putting the era of these massive libraries-on-wheels to an end. Kenosha Pubic Library’s “RIG” – an acronym for Reading-is-Great, the nickname a result from a city-wide contest- was the last of the tractor-trailers. KPL purchased the AMC truck and Great Dane trailer for $92,000 in 1987 (the AMC was later replaced by an International Harvester). The 40-foot trailer was the last bookmobile in the country to be pulled by a semi. It could carry up to 10,000 items and was powered by a propane generator. KPL replaced the 18-wheeler with a bus in 2004, which carried three laptops and an awning.


Kenosha’s new bookmobile, 2004. Photo, Kenosha News.

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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! 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.

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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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