A Look at the Vintage Bookmobiles

Even before the days of Seamless and TaskRabbit, we were quite the lazy bunch. Why walk when you have a horse drawn carriage; why go to the library when you can have your books hand- delivered? This book delivery system, the ‘bookmobile’ was the Amazon of the Victorian days, albeit for a slightly better cause. Bookmobiles, carriages and wagons sporting shelves of books, made reading an accessible leisure for local book lovers as well as rural townspeople lacking proper libraries.

Washington County, Maryland 1912

LA Public Library, book mobile for sick patients, 1928

Starting in the eighteenth century and under the guidance of librarian Mary Titcomb, bookmobiles started their slow crawl across the states. As the project expanded reach did too, and by 1904, 66 deposit stations dotted the country coast to coast. After the birth of motor vehicles, the project exploded and the car service expanded its goals from helping rural areas, to filling the shelves at school and retirement houses without adequate resources.

Cincinnati Ohio, 1933

After the introduction of cars, the bookmobile business buoyed and sank with the instability of the years that followed – Great Depression, WWI, WWII – but eventually saw a resurgence thanks to 50’s and 60’s legislation invested in public works and bolstering literacy. Although a far cry from Kesey’s 60’s van and his merry band of pranksters, these re-vamped book mobiles did feature slick new rides, shelves packed spine to spine, and backing by a greater force of librarians to spread the Dewey D love.

New York Public Library mobile in CA

Framingham Public Library Mobile, Mass. 1956

Today’s mobile libraries fit a far less romantic and image, looking more like the vans that hauled you off to a dreaded week of summer camp with their deceptively cheery rainbowed stripes. 

Image courtesy of

But, at the aesthetic loss, they are able cover more ground than a rickety horse drawn carriage, meaning more books to more disadvantaged communities. From wagon libraries on wheels to modernized vans in the age of Amazon and book vending machines, proximity and availability of resources remain critical factors in the larger goal of literacy. 


Images courtesy of The Vintage News.