Libraries on wheels (or on four-legged creatures, as we will soon learn) first began gaining popularity in 19th-century Europe. Inspired by the creativity and knowing it would fulfill a need here in America as well, librarian and entrepreneur Mary Titcomb launched the first bookmobile in Maryland at the turn of the century. Drawn by a horse and carriage, the idea began catching on, and by 1904, 66 mobile libraries had been started.

In 1912, the first motorized bookmobiles took off with a zoom … and they didn’t slow down for several decades.

Photo by Orange County Archives via Wikimedia Commons.

The bookmobile was an ingenious way to bring literacy and education to rural communities. What could make a bibliophile smile wider than this coming ’round the bend in their neck of the woods?

Librarians in the early 1900s could purchase a bookmobile for as little as $1,000, which made financial sense … at least until the 1970s and ’80s, when fuel prices began to skyrocket.

Fuel prices might not be so limiting, however, in places like Thailand, where bookmobiles come in the form of elephants, or in Zimbabwe, where they utilize donkeys. In Kenya, they prefer the camel as their mode of bookish transportation, and in the Andes, they like their llama-mobiles. Have a pet-dander allergy and an automobile aversion? Try a boat, like in Bergin, Norway. Not only is their bookmobile water friendly, it also has a small performing circus on board.

I know, right?

In the Himalayas, there’s a bookmobile in the form of a person. This dedicated librarian carries his books-for-loan in a huge basket on his back … even the entire Oxford Dictionary!

Intrigued as we are by these devoted bibliophiles? You can download a free mini movie on one of the most famous bookmobile drivers, who brings his tomes to the people of Colombia on donkey-back.

With the dawning of the digital age, bookmobiles lost their popularity, but we feel confident that the vintage feel and artistic vibe of the bookmobile will be revived. Seattle already has one that’s awfully sweet to the eyes.

Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

I’d say if you park it next to your local taco truck, you’d have some cheerful patrons, wouldn’t you?



Leave a comment 6 Comments

  1. Cindy Meade says:

    Great story, thank you for sharing.

  2. Carrie Williams says:

    This reminds me of a sweet story i just read, The Little Paris Bookshop by Simon Pare. The bookmobile in the story is actually a barge and the lovely owner is a man who considers his shop to be an apothecary…healing people with books 😊 I loved it!

  3. melissa eloe says:

    I would love it when the book mobile came to the public school in the summer. We would be there for summer activities and it would pull up once a week. There was just something special about boarding the bus and picking out books. Thanks for the memories!

  4. Karlyne says:

    I can’t remember just where we were living, but I do remember as a kid boarding a bookmobile and loving the whole idea! Books that came to me – wow!

  5. Susan Ewing says:

    We live on Stevens Pass in the Washington Cascade mountains and there is a book mobile comes once a week to the local grocery store that we shop at. I feel it is like an ice cream wagon full of good treats. Love the article about the history of the rolling library. Thanks.

  6. terry steinmetz says:

    When we were first married, we had a bookmobile for our rural area. I used it often, as I didn’t have a car to go to the library in town. It was fun to receive books that I wanted to read. Thanks for sharing this story!

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