National Bookmobile Day, begun in 2010, is Wednesday, April 16, 2014. It celebrates American bookmobiles and "the dedicated library professionals who provide this valuable and essential service to their communities every day," according to the American Library Association (A.L.A). “National Bookmobile Day is an opportunity for bookmobiles fans to make their support known—through thanking bookmobile staff, writing a letter or e-mail to their libraries, or voicing their support to community leaders.”
It is part of National Library Week, which this year is April 13-19, 2014.
Held on the Wednesday of National Library Week since 2010, National Bookmobile Day (NBD) recognizes and celebrates the role of bookmobiles and direct-delivery outreach services in fulfilling the mission of libraries. An integral and vital part of library service in the United States for over 100 years, bookmobiles have delivered information, technology, and resources for life-long learning to Americans of all walks of life.
The A.L.A. Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (O.L.O.S.), the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (A.B.O.S.), and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (A.R.S.L.) sponsor and coordinate National Bookmobile Day. It honors mobile delivery outreach as an integral and vital part of library service in the United States.
For more than 100 years, bookmobiles have delivered information, technology, and resources for life-long learning to Americans of all walks of life. Two groups of people in two northwestern counties of England developed mobile library service as early as the 1850s.
These were known as perambulating libraries. They did not operate continuously until the present era, however.
A committee formed in Cumberland (now part of Cumbria) that supported a mobile library service which consisted of a man pushing a wheelbarrow-like book cart between deposit stations in eight towns, as The British Workman noted in 1857. The Warrington Mechanic’s Institute in Warrington, Cheshire, England established the Warrington Perambulating Library, which consisted of a horse-drawn book-wagon, in 1858.
Mary Lemist Titcomb, the first Librarian of the Washington County Free Library in Maryland, introduced mobile library service to the U.S. in 1905. Having decided the sixty-six deposit stations with thirty volumes each Miss Titcomb had distributed outside the county seat by 1904 were insufficient to provide service in outlying areas, she convinced the Board of Trustees to commission a wagon maker to produce her Library Wagon.
Two horses drew the Library Wagon. The janitor, Joshua Thomas, both drove the wagon and dispensed the books.
That first horse-drawn book-wagon was destroyed in an accident with a train in August of 1910. In 1912, the Washington County Free Library acquired a motorized book-wagon built by the International Harvester Company.
International Harvester called it the International Auto Wagon. The Wisconsin Historical Society owns a photograph of the model in Washington County in the McCormick-International Harvester Collection and may sell copies of the photo. The Marion City Library in Marion, South Carolina began to serve outlying districts of Marion County with a mule-drawn wagon in 1913.
There were about 2,000 American bookmobiles in the 1970s, but less than half that many by the turn of the century, due to rising fuel costs and library budget cuts. The number of bookmobiles has further decreased from 819 nationwide in 2006 to 696 as in 2011, the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (I.M.L.S.) reported in Public Library Survey, 2011.
Today, according to the A.B.O.S., the average cost of a bookmobile is around $200,000. The A.L.A states, “Bookmobiles can often be a cost-effective means of providing library services to large geographic areas, especially when compared to the cost of building and maintaining physical branches.”
In a recent report from the Wayne County, Ohio, Library, the average cost of a bookmobile is approximately $200,000-$230,000, compared to the cost of constructing a library building, which averages around $1,600,000.
“Bookmobiles, like libraries, continue to meet the needs of their communities by offering free access to the latest technology and materials to users of all ages,” according to the A.L.A. They visit a wide range of locations, including rural areas, suburbs, and cities. In addition to neighborhood stops, bookmobiles also serve day care centers, elementary and high schools, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and, in some cases, individual residences for home delivery.
The services bookmobiles provide parallel with library branches. Bookmobiles provide a wide variety of books, periodicals, and DVDS and other media. They also provide reference service and reader’s advisory, offer programs and classes, and present story-times and activities.
Many bookmobiles provide technology, including adaptive technology for people with disabilities, computers with Internet access, educational software, e-readers, portable media players, subscription databases, and even video game systems. As bookmobile service expands, many vehicles are becoming specialized, and their names are changing to match their purposes--Technomobile, JobLink, Kidmobile, Cybermobile, ABC Express, etc.
Bookmobile manufacturers have responded to changing conditions by designing vehicles that are easily accessible and environmentally friendly. Today’s bookmobiles are fuel efficient and “green” (environmentally-friendly) vehicles. Many of these vehicles employ the latest “green” technologies, including clean diesel engines and generators, LED lighting, and recycled materials.
The Kentucky Department for Library & Archives Bookmobile & Outreach Services program operates a fleet of 123 vehicles, seventy-six bookmobiles and forty-seven outreach vehicles. They state, “The purpose of Bookmobile and Outreach Services is to insure that all Kentucky citizens have access to public library materials and services. Kentucky continues to operate over 120 bookmobile and outreach vehicles because it is the least expensive and most efficient way to reach those who cannot travel to their public library. People who have difficulty getting to the library include: those who are isolated by distance, poverty, lack of education or transportation; those with disabilities; the very young or elderly; those in institutions such as schools, nursing homes, correctional facilities, etc.”