Take a Road Trip with National Bookmobile Day April 17th
Tomorrow, April 17th, is National Bookmobile Day. In honor of the day, which, according to the American Library Association (ALA), “celebrates our nation’s bookmobiles and the dedicated library professionals who provide this valuable and essential service to their communities every day,” here is a bit of history and a look at what bookmobiles are doing these days.
The country’s first bookmobile was apparently devised in 1905 by Mary Titcomb, a librarian in Washington Country, Maryland. Her first attempts at community outreach included shipping boxes of books to distant depots, but she soon concluded that a dedicated vehicle would be more practical, saying “Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and visible signs of the service for which the Library stood, do much more in cementing friendship?” This first bookmobile was a book-filled wagon drawn by two horses and driven and manned by the library janitor. (More here.) Another notable group of mobile book-dispensers were the “Pack Horse Librarians,” who rode horses or mules 50-80 miles a week through rural Eastern Kentucky in 1935. (Details here.)
The services provided to communities by bookmobiles are described by those who do the work as “outreach.” A bookmobile is not merely a purveyor of books to those who may not have easy access to a library; it provides a much wider scope of important services. Martha A. Buckner, President of the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), says, “Outreach can mean much more than the delivery of books and other materials.”
Buckner lists the following examples of bookmobile outreach:
- Storytimes for preschool children.
- A safe place to for kids who may not have any safe spaces in their lives.
- An air-conditioned respite on a scorching hot day.
- A librarian with a sympathetic ear who will listen to the heartache and disappointment voiced by a single parent, raising a grandchild and caring for an elderly parent at the same time.
The most current statistics available from the ALA show more than 930 active bookmobiles in 2008, an increase over the 2005 figure of 825. Based on data from the National Center of Educational Statistics, Kentucky has the most at 98, followed by California at 69 and Ohio at 66.
While many bookmobiles are buses, box trucks or vans, there’s one lively and colorful bookmobile rolling around British Columbia in a Nissan Cube. “Library Live and on Tour” librarian Smitty is out to provide services and to show people that “libraries are not ssshh places anymore.” Her brightly painted car packs a lot into a very small space. You can watch a video about the program here.
Another notable member of this literary road patrol is the Digital Bookmobile powered by OverDrive, a 74-foot 18-wheeler that provides ebooks and audiobooks. See if it’s coming to a community near you here!
National Bookmobile Day is coordinated by the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS), the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL). Make an effort to visit your local library tomorrow, and say thank you!