Bookmobiles: Then and Now

This is a timeline about the evolution of the Bookmobile, including the features, technology, and vehicles responsible for bringing library services to the public.

The intent of this timeline is to illustrate the rich history of the bookmobile, with a focus on the technology and adaptability that makes a bookmobile a vital part of public library service. McCannon (1975) describes the goals of the bookmobile well in the following statement:;xNLx;People who would never set foot inside a library building will visit a bookmobile and see materials there which they can use. Bookmobile service is not dependent on a building or a specific location. Service problems arising through sudden increases (or decreases) in population are frequently solved by the bookmobile. (p. 3);xNLx;;xNLx;Despite the recent decline in the number of bookmobiles (down in the United States from 819 in 2006 to 696 as of 2011), bookmobiles remain an economical choice for many libraries. Bookmobile service is very cost effective, especially in large geographic areas or cities with physical barriers to library access, like highways impassable by foot. The American Library Association (2016) states, "In a recent report from the Wayne County, Ohio, Library, the average cost of a bookmobile is approximately $200,000-$230,000, compared to the cost of constructing a library building, which averages around $1.6 million" (p. 3).;xNLx;;xNLx;This is an exciting time to be in library science. Public libraries across the country are changing rapidly, redefining library service, and making hard choices in a climate which expects them to do more with less funding. Librarians are being challenged to prove the relevancy of libraries, and bookmobiles are a vital part of that future vision. It is my hope that this timeline aids in that purpose.;xNLx;;xNLx;Sources: McCannon, M. (1975). Bookmobile Services Report, July 11, 1975. Indianapolis Public Library.;xNLx;;xNLx;National Bookmobile Day 2016. (2016, April 13). Retrieved from

1905-01-01 00:00:00

The Beginning

Although book delivery had been imagined in various ways since as early as 1679, the first bookmobile as we know it today was the creation of librarian Mary Lemist Titcomb. It was a black Concord horse drawn wagon that traveled the country roads of Washington County, Maryland (Levinson, 1991). It carried as many as 2560 books on its outside shelves and in the storage space inside. When not mistaken for a hearse, it was called the "book contraption" by the rural folks for whom Titcomb was determined to provide library service. Source: Levinson, N. 1. (1991). Takin' it to the streets; the history of the book wagon. Library Journal, 11643-45.

1912-01-01 00:00:00

Motorized Bookmobile

Another first for the Washington County Free Library, this motorized bookmobile was in use from 1912 to 1916. "In March of 1912 an IHC Autobuggy with body by Thomas White was delivered by the International Harvester Company. It had a specially constructed top with shelves for 300 books and storage room for four deposit station cases" (Western Maryland Historical Library, N.D.).

1914-01-01 00:00:00

Book Delivery Vehicle

Here is a book delivery van owned by the Indianapolis Public Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. This type of bookmobile delivered books to "library stations," small collections of books located in businesses, hospitals, community centers, and manufacturing plants throughout the city.

1937-01-01 14:37:06

Bookmobiles Stalled Out

According to PBS, "By the late 1930s, there were as many as 60 bookmobiles nationwide. The Great Depression and two World Wars then sharply curtailed services and bookmobile production around the country" (2011).

1948-01-01 04:57:00


The photocharger was first used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Library in 1948. It took a picture of the patron’s library card and the items checked out to that card. According to Kingery (1960) “It was pointed out that photography among other things reduced error, shortened elapsed time, increased accuracy, and assisted in making maximum use of lower grade skills” (p. 408). Source: Kingery, R. E. (1960). Copying methods as applied to library operations. Library Trends, 8, 407-413.

1952-01-01 00:00:00

1950s Bookmobile

This is a picture of a group of librarians standing with the first Indianapolis Public Library bookmobile. Berry and Gadski (2011) state “In 1952, the Library announced it was taking its services to the streets, having allocated $10,144 to buy its first bookmobile” (p. 132). This bookmobile was built by the Gerstenslager Co. of Wooster, Ohio. It weighed 2 1/2 tons, carried about 2000 books, and was equipped with a Remington-Rand photocharger. The bookmobile was the only library in the entire system with the new photocharger technology . Source: Berry, S. L., & Gadski, M. E. (2011). Stacks: A history of the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library. Indianapolis, IN: Indianapolis Marion County Library Foundation.

1955-02-13 14:46:56

On the Bookmobile

Bookmobile driver Ben Perry operates the Remington Rand photocharger. The bookmobile had the only photocharger in the Indianapolis Public Library system.

1966-01-01 20:51:20

1960s Bookmobiles

The equipment and lights of these two bookmobiles were powered through special outlets integrated into the city electrical system. This made for far more reliable power than the old gasoline powered generator, but there was one huge drawback. It was difficult and costly to change the bookmobile route once it was established and the outlets were installed.

1971-01-01 14:46:56

Library Go-Go Van

The "Books to People" program was a three year long experiment to introduce the library and its services to non-users in economically depressed areas of Indianapolis. The librarians drove the "Go Go Van" in designated areas, but didn't have a set route. They stopped at various places for varying amounts of time depending on the needs of the people they found. The van had book racks installed in the back. (Books to People Program Report, 1975). Brady (1971) notes that in the first 9 months alone, the Go-Go Van circulated 10,424 books. Branch managers noted that people who had met the Van were showing up in library branches for the first time. The Go-Go Van had an immediate positive impact on the city. Sources: Books to People Program Report. (1975). Indianapolis Public Library. Brady, A. (1971). Books to People Annual Report. Indianapolis Public Library.

1976-01-01 14:37:06

Breakthroughs in Multimedia

This Gerstenslager bookmobile advertisement illustrates several developments in bookmobile technology. Television, film projectors, and puppet theaters are all options that can be custom built into the modern bookmobile.

1990-11-02 05:30:44


The JobLINC Bus, part of the JobLINC program created in 1990, is a fine example of the adaptability of the bookmobile. It travels the city connecting job seekers and employers. Among the services offered are listings of available jobs, aid in locating training opportunities, one-on-one assistance in conducting job searches, preparing for interviews, and job readiness workshops. Watch this short video to see the latest iteration of the JobLINC Bus.

2000-06-01 10:25:26

Creative Transportation

Alaska's Kusko Book Express is a combination of bookmobiles and boats that deliver books to subsistence fish camps during the summer months. The children of the Yup'ik tribe benefit from the delivery of books and weekly literacy programming that wouldn't otherwise be an option for them during the long summer days. As Gouwen (2011) explains, in the summer of 2000, the third year of the program has 1200 participating children (p. 110). Source: Gouwens, J. (2011). Migrant Education: A Reference Handbook. Denver, CO: ABC-CLIO.

2008-01-01 22:19:56

Itty Bitty Bookmobiles

The Indianapolis Public Library begins the “On the Road to Reading program, a focused effort to improve the quality of literacy curriculum in childcare centers and help prepare children for kindergarten" (Brown, 2014, p. 16). The library uses a fleet of five SUVs and hires early education specialists to provide monthly literacy programming at small in-home and day care ministries. These day cares are often unable to travel to the library. Brown states, "These Itty Bitty Bookmobiles are more cost effective and allow for staff to easily travel around town making programming stops at 130-150 locations each month serving more than 2,500 children" (2014, p. 16). Source: Brown, A. (2014). Library outreach as a partner for the early childhood educator. Indiana Libraries. 33(2), 16-18.

2013-06-08 14:34:29

Advertising on Wheels

Bookmobiles are involved in library advocacy and promotional events. Bookmobiles have been seen at community festivals, fairs, school events, and parades. Here is a photo of library staff and an Itty Bitty Bookmobile participating in the Indy Pride parade.

2013-08-01 22:19:56

Book Bikes

Libraries all across the country are combining an old method of transportation (the bicycle) with new technology to bring library service to people in congested urban areas. DPL Connect is a bike-powered service that circulates books; provides a wireless hotspot; and assists with research, ebook downloads, and library card sign-ups. For now, the entire program is run by Zac Laugheed, reference librarian at the Denver Public Library in Denver, CO. (Francis, 2014). Source: Francis, C. (2014). Custom library book bikes roll out across US. American Libraries. Retrieved from

2014-08-01 22:19:56

Modern Technology

Advances in technology enable bookmobiles to provide even more services and opportunities to their communities including internet access, computer training, and mobile programming. The East Baton Rouge Parish Library’s digital bookmobile is wired for multiple computer laptops and video display. The librarians teach computer classes and help their patrons use the library’s digital library. It even has a bubble machine.

2016-04-13 22:19:56

Bookmobiles of Today

The Indianapolis Public Library's two new bookmobiles, named Frog and Toad, are equipped with solar panels, WiFi, electronic device charging stations, an outdoor PA system, and a retractable awning. They can each hold about 2000 books.

Bookmobiles: Then and Now

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