A Brief History of Bookmobiles

A "book mobile" serving children in Blount County, Tennessee, United States, in 1943
A “book mobile” serving children in Blount County, Tennessee, United States, in 1943

A bookmobile or mobile library is a vehicle designed for use as a library. They have been known by many names including traveling library, library wagon, book wagon, book truck, and library-on-wheels. Bookmobiles transport books to potential readers, providing library services to people in otherwise underserved locations.

Bookmobiles have been based on various means of conveyance, including bicycles, carts, motor vehicles, trains, watercraft, and wagons, as well as camels, donkeys, elephants, horses, and mules.

Does your local library have a Bookmobile? If so do you know who to thank?

 Mary Titcomb launched the very 1st bookmobile. A horse drawn wagon in April 1905.

In 1912 the first motorized Bookmobiles were born. They transported books to rural areas, schools and senior centers. In the early 1900s Bookmobile could be purchased for as little as $1,000. The great depression and two world wars curtailed the services and Bookmobile production. The boom years of the ’50s resurged bookmobile production and in the 1960s sparked a renewed popularity of Bookmobiles by extending government funding and services to urban areas.

Fuel cost and budget cutbacks in the 1970s & 1980s forced libraries to scale back bookmobile services. More recently there was a 20% decline in bookmobiles from 1990 to 2003. Digital technologies maybe a contributing factor. Yet from 2003-2005 the number of bookmobiles has grown by more than 10% according The American Library Association.

A look at some different bookmobiles over the years:
1931 a two-wheeled cart in India
1996 Kenyan launched a camel library
Zimbabwe followed Biblioburro’s lead by adapting donkey drawn bookmobiles.
Elephant-drawn library in Thailand
The Epos book boat in Norway
Today even Book bikes.

Currently a new Bookmobile can cost over $200,000. According to the Institute of Museum Library services, in 2018 there were 647 Bookmobiles delivering library services in the US.

Chemung County Library district is proud to be one of them. If you are in need of Bookmobile service in your area let us know? 738-2476


Kim Jones
Bookmobile Driver