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What Exactly Is A Bookmobile?

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While discussing new article topics in The News Wheel’s office, we learned that National Bookmobile Day is coming up on April 11th. After listening to the other editors, we also realized that some of them had no idea of what a bookmobile was. We consider ourselves fairly educated, so we figured if parts of our office were clueless there are probably quite a few other people that don’t know about these magical vehicles of knowledge and we had to let the world know all about them.

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To start off, the most basic definition of bookmobile is “a truck that serves as a traveling library” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. While most definitions state that these vehicles are operated by libraries, a few of our staff have also had contact with bookmobiles owned by bookstores that offer reading materials to purchase instead of borrow, such as the Parnassus on Wheels vehicle in Nashville, Tennessee.

Bookmobiles got their modern American start at the turn of the century when librarian Mary Titcomb launched her horse-drawn library wagon to serve the rural communities of Washington County, Maryland. The first motorized bookmobiles started their engines in 1912 to help spread literacy throughout the country.

Bookmobile

While bookmobiles gained popularity, PBS states that their numbers fell during the Great Depression. The Library Services Act of 1956 brought them back with increased funding to reach around 30 million people with limited library access. Digital library services slowed the growth of bookmobiles, but in recent years numbers have continued to rise. Besides serving rural communities or book deserts with little access to books, bookmobiles also bring a selection of tomes to senior centers for residents who can’t go to the local library. Many childcare centers also receive regular visits to encourage their students to read more.

Baby reading

Bookmobiles seem to be the most popular in the United States, but there are still many services like it in other countries. In Thailand they have elephant libraries, and parts of Norway are served by a bookboat.


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As a team that loves to read almost as much as we love to write, we tip our hats to bookmobiles and their hard-working staff that helps books get into the hands of readers. To learn more about the simple impact access to reading material has on a person’s life, watch the animated video below that tells the story of Storm Reyes and her childhood with the bookmobile.

History Sources: Merriam-Webster Dictionary and PBS