News & Opinion

Books on Board! Celebrating National Bookmobile Day

by on April 8, 2013

Picture the following: The Queen, chasing her runaway corgis, accidentally happens upon a mobile library parked outside of Buckingham Palace. She enters and selects a book. Reading initially undertaken from a sense of duty is soon surpassed by the sheer delight of reading for pleasure. So ensues a fictional tale celebrating the Queen of England’s adventures in reading. In this whimsical yarn spun by Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader allows us, the readers, to yearn for the unparalleled joy and wonder of experiencing libraries through the unique environment of the wee bookmobile.

Mobile Outreach—History and Origins
The concept of mobile outreach is not new, nor is it likely to decline or disappear. Even as the role of libraries changes and new technologies replace outdated models of service, the idea of bringing the library to the people instead of waiting passively for library patrons to enter our institutions remains vital. The first bookmobile in the United States (in the form of a horse-driven wagon!) originated in April, 1905 by Mary Lemist Titcomb, a librarian in Washington County, Maryland. As noted by Titcomb, “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.” Over a century has passed since this statement was made, and yet this is not a far cry from our current goal of ensuring library access to all.

Mobile Outreach—Now and Future
Libraries continue to honor Titcomb’s mission through various types of mobile outreach. One of the most popular modes of delivering library materials and services is bookmobiles, or mobile libraries. Bookmobiles serve populations that might not otherwise have access to library services due to a number of potential barriers. For example, bookmobiles provide information services and library materials to the disabled; people living in rural areas or low income communities; those who reside in nursing homes or hospitals; and even prisoners. Bookmobiles are filled with books, periodicals, newspapers, and even DVDs and other media, and staff may provide reference service, reader’s advisory, story times, literacy programs, career and job search assistance, and, arguably most importantly, access to different types of technology.

My library system, the Toronto Public Library, has two bookmobiles that serve library users at more than 30 stops throughout the city. But these bookmobiles do more than simply stop to make deliveries. They are incorporated into the organization’s programs and services. For example, both bookmobiles will be participating in the Toronto One Book community reading program this spring by giving away copies of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 at a number of Bookmobile stops. This is a great way of ensuring accessibility to library programs and events for users who might not otherwise visit branches or check out the library website to see what’s new.

Bookmobiles operate around the world; some connected with libraries and some operating independently, and they can be found in a variety of designs and forms. For example, the beautifully-designed Uitschuif Biebbus in Amsterdam; the camel bookmobile in Kenya; the Biblioburro in Columbia; the Story Sailboat in the San Francisco Bay area; and, really, who wouldn’t want to spend a dreamy summer tooling around Italy in the Bibliomotocarro?

Celebrate Bookmobiles
Do your part to support the value—and necessity!—of bookmobiles by participating in National Bookmobile Day on April 17, 2013. National Bookmobile Day, which began in 2010, “honors mobile delivery outreach as an integral and vital part of library service in the United States.” ALA offers free downloadable marketing and publicity resources so that your organization can promote mobile outreach services on (and leading up to) National Bookmobile Day.

Does your library have a bookmobile, or do you offer another type of mobile outreach? Or, what other steps do you take to bring the library to the people? How do you plan to celebrate National Bookmobile Day?


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