The First Bookmobile in the United States



This is a photograph of what is alleged to be the first American bookmobile. It was built in 1905 by the public library of Washington County, Maryland. Mary Titcomb, the librarian responsible for its creation, described its importance:

Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and visible signs of the service for which the Library stood, do much more in cementing friendship? Would the upkeep of the wagon after the first cost be much more than the present method? Is not Washington County with its good roads especially well adapted for testing an experiment of this kind, for the geography of the County is such that it could be comfortably covered by well planned routes? These and other aspects of the plan were laid before the Board of Trustees - who approved of the idea, and forthwith the librarian began interviewing wagon makers and trying to elucidate her ideas with pen and pencil. The first wagon, when finished with shelves on the outside and a place for storage of cases in the center resembled somewhat a cross between a grocer's delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart of by gone New England days. Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905.

No better method has ever been devised for reaching the dweller in the country. The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book. Psychologically too the wagon is the thing. As well try to resist the pack of a peddler from the Orient as the shelf full of books when the doors of the wagon are opened by Miss Chrissinger at one's gateway.


The original wagon was hit and destroyed by a train in 1910, and replaced with a motorized version two years later.

Link via Jessamyn West | Photo: Washington County Free Library

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wonderful post. I was only reading about these the other day, as I was trying to work out if the US had mobile libraries like we have in the more rural areas of the UK.

Very informative.
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The People's Free Library of South Carolina that was established in 1903 in Chester County, South Carolina may be able to give the bookmobile a challenge to the "first bookmobile in the United States" title.

According to the University of South Carolina's history of public libraries in the state: "The People's Free Library brought limited services to the surrounding countryside by a mule drawn wagon carrying wooden boxes of books." http://www.libsci.sc.edu/histories/vts/vts09.html

It looks like more research needs to be done to verify dates--there are probably other early bookmobile services around the country as well that need to be better documented.
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