The Bookmobile Heads South; Greenville South Carolina

     The first bookmobile to run south of Maryland was the Pathfinder of Greenville, South Carolina, though strictly speaking it operated just outside city limits. The Greenville Public Library had been founded in 1921 but was limited to city residents. This barred the workers living in the cotton mill towns located in the city’s outskirts from using the library. Seeking to fill this void, library board chairman and local philanthropist Thomas F. Parker bought and furnished “The Pathfinder”, a bookmobile soley for the cotton mill workers and their children. It stopped at the schools built by the mills for the sake of workers’ children, and at the cotton mills themselves. In the latter case the Pathfinder visited during shift changes and lunch breaks. It was popular enough to justify a second bookmobile being purchased a year later.

PathfindercroppedThe “Pathfinder” of Greenville.



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The Bookmobile that Became a Bookstore; Honolulu, Hawaii

Most bookmobiles are slated for the junkyard after they’ve served their purpose, but a few lucky ones get a unique second life.  Case in point is Bill’s Bookmobile in Honolulu. For seven years, the bookmobile seemed to be destined to meet the fate of other abandoned vehicles, decaying as it was in storage and being cannibalized for spare parts. But in 2006, the Friends of the Library of Hawaii purchased and renovated the vehicle into a permanent bookstore that is now parked in Honolulu. Over half of the $11,000 renovation was paid for by the estate of Bill Harper, an avid reader and library lover. The store opened to great fanfare in 2007, with an opening ceremony that included a lion dance and music from the Royal Hawaiian Band. The bookmobile can carry up to 3,000 books and all of the proceeds support the 50 public libraries of Hawaii.

Bills Bookmobile

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The First Hybrids


Rochester, Minnesota’s hybrid. Courtesy of the Rochester Public Library.

In February 2012, Mendocino County, CA, launched America’s first hybrid bookmobile. Funding came from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act and a grant from Air Quality Management. It is a Freightliner diesel/electric vehicle that recharges at each stop and has 50% more the efficiency of the bookmobile it replaced. “Even using power for a half-hour, it only takes a few minutes to recharge,” explained driver Dave Frick. It also comes equipped with solar panels that charge the battery running the air-conditioning and electricity. The exterior was painted by local artist James Sibbet. As another form of recycling, it carries a box of donated books for patrons to pick from.
A few months later, Rochester, MN followed with a bookmobile powered by a hybrid drive train and generator. Other environmentally-friendly innovations include solar panels, LED lights and recycled rubber floors. It’s estimated that these green technologies save the library $3,000 in operating costs each year.


Mendocino County’s hybrid bookmobile, the first in the country. Courtesy of the Mendocino County Public Library.

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The Classroom on Wheels

In 2012, The Toledo-Lucas County Public Library of Ohio launched its own Cybermobile, dubbed the “Classroom on Wheels.” While not a bookmobile per se, it is unique among library vehicles in that its sole purpose is bringing digital instruction to patrons. Equipped with 12 computers and a smartboard, the Cybermobile has provided patrons with basic computer classes, resume writing workshops, and GED courses, among other services. For preschoolers it hosts “Tiny Tech”,  or early digital literacy programs. TLCPL has also partnered with other organizations, such as Mercy College’s School of Nursing, to provide patrons with free health workshops and children’s vision and hearing screenings.


Interior of the “Classroom on Wheels”.

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The Boatmobile of Boca Grande, Florida


The Papyrus II, with Roger and Louise Amory on board.

From 1954 to 1972, The Johann Fust Public Library of Boca Grande, FL, used a yacht to bring books to islands in the surrounding area . The boat went to such islands as Bokeelia, Useppa, Mondongo, Sea Grape Island, Cabbage Key, and Captiva. The first, Papyrus, ran for four years before being replaced by the Papyrus II. Librarian Pansy Cost organized the effort. The boats were piloted by Capt. Adelbert “Del” Johnson or by the husband and wife team of Roger and Louise Amory. In 1972, the board of the Johann Fust Public Library voted to sell the unique craft.


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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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