Sunday, July 15, 2012

Words on Wheels

My earliest experience with bookmobiles dates back to the late 1960s, when Oregon’s Multnomah County public library system arranged to send one of its large, reading-matter-packed vans into my neighborhood. My family lived in the forested hills west of downtown Portland, and my mother didn’t drive a car, so the walking trip to the Central Library and back took a good few hours and strong legs. It was a welcome treat when the bookmobile would bring new volumes to us, instead.

I recall that we watched for the bookmobile to wheel down our road (maybe twice a month? I’m not really sure now of its frequency), and as soon as it parked, my brother and I were there waiting at its door, hoping to find something fresh and interesting among its stacks. I spent numerous hours inside that cramped conveyance, reveling in the experiences and knowledge its printed contents offered.

I hadn’t known, until I looked up BookRiot editor Jeff O’Neal’s “Brief History of American Bookmobiles ... in Pictures,” that these wonderful vehicles have been around since the start of the 20th century. “The first American bookmobile was actually a wagon,” O’Neal explains. “Mary Titcomb, a Maryland librarian, recognized that having books was only one part of the library’s job: the other part was making the books accessible. The Washington County Library Wagon took books around the county, making scheduled stops in addition to impromptu dispersals.” The number of bookmobiles grew during the Great Depression, as more public funding became available to serve the needs of a citizenry starved for entertainment and education. Some such vehicles remain in operation, though they’ve been “transformed into movable Internet hubs.”

I wish O’Neal had provided still more photos of these lovely creations, but you can enjoy those he has gathered here.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)


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