“Memories of childhood were the dreams that stayed with you after you woke.” ~ Julian Barnes
As a child growing up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., I loved the bookmobile. Twice a month a small library on wheels rolled into the neighborhood and parked in front of our house, there was nothing better. Feeling the wallop of arctic air the moment I climbed aboard; it was the perfect escape from the hot and sticky summer months.
Though I loved the library, the bookmobile was like a time-machine. The endless rows of books were friends who transported me to distant places. It was there I was introduced to “The Box Car Children” and “Nancy Drew Mysteries.” One stamp of black ink in the back of the book and it was mine to devour for two weeks.
The concept and reality of bookmobile service started in Hagerstown, Maryland in April, 1905. The Librarian of the Washington County Free Library, Mary L. Titcomb, sent out the first book wagon in the United States from the library. The book wagon had space for 200 books on the outside and storage space for more books on the inside. The wagon was pulled by two horses while the janitor from the library held the reins. By 1937, the production of bookmobiles in the United States had increased to 60. This increase in production forced the American Library Association to provide guidance for libraries interested in acquiring a bookmobile.
I haven’t seen a bookmobile since my childhood, but they still exist today. There has been a decline in services over the years, but the bookmobile remains an integral part of our cultural landscape in all states with the exception of Maine. At last count, Kentucky leads the way with 98 bookmobiles.
Libraries are still in our communities and offer wonderful programs to inspire young readers. But as I watch public libraries reduce their hours and bookstores close their doors, I’m so grateful to have grown up in a time where bookmobiles traveled the streets of my neighborhood. Those days, my biggest decision during summer vacation was what book to take to the pool.