Bookmobiles Bring Food, Internet, And Reading Materials

Bookmobiles may seem old-school, but they are still around and better than ever, offering new and unique services to connect with users.

Do you remember a bookmobile from your childhood? The large van filled with books that came to your neighborhood just like the ice cream truck, only you didn’t have to nag your parents for a dollar to get something. Bookmobiles may seem old-school, but they are still around and better than ever, offering new and unique services to connect with users. I’d like to take some time to honor these traveling libraries that have stood the test of time.

Some of you may be wondering how COVID-19 has affected bookmobiles since some libraries are still operating under restrictions that limit programming and in-person browsing. Although the pandemic has temporarily halted some bookmobiles, many librarians viewed this challenge as an opportunity to reach their communities on a different level. Keep reading to learn about some fun and exciting ways librarians have modified their bookmobiles to suit the current climate.

The Staying Power of Bookmobiles

While the number of bookmobiles throughout the United States has declined over the years, these libraries on wheels are still prevalent in rural areas where the closest local library is too far away for many families to visit regularly. But you don’t have to live in a rural area to see the value of bookmobiles. There are plenty of people who struggle to access their library’s resources, such as:

  • People with disabilities or limited mobility
  • People without access to a vehicle or public transportation
  • People who reside in nursing homes, prisons, or other institutions where they cannot come and go freely

The beauty of a bookmobile is that they bring the library to you, providing access to people where they are so that distance and other limitations are no longer obstacles.

So, how are bookmobiles evolving?

Resources on the Go

The Brooklyn Public Library(BPL) has a fleet of four bookmobiles — two traditional bookmobiles, one tech mobile, and one bookmobile that caters specifically to children and teens. The tech mobile is equipped with desktop computers and laptops available for use in the outdoor seating areas. BPL has also started using a walk-up service model so that patrons can browse the collection and check out books without stepping inside the bookmobile. Transactions occur through a side window, like a food truck or ice cream truck.

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Library Bookmobiles and Food Pantries Join Forces

The Pendleton Community Public Library in Indiana has a unique take on bookmobiles. Their Read ’n’ Feed project is a mobile library, and food pantry rolled into one vehicle. Thanks to partnerships with multiple organizations, such as local townships, supermarkets, farmers markets, the Friends of the Library, and the United Way, this food pantry bookmobile combination can offer patrons ten food items of choice and access to the library materials during each visit.

Traveling Hotspots

The Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library in Kansas offers free Wi-Fi access from their bookmobile. This service is provided six days a week at local churches, community centers, and shopping plazas to help bring free internet access to the community. A schedule is posted online so patrons can track the bookmobile’s daily stops.

Bookmobiles Take Library Programs on the Road

The Anaheim Public Library has a vehicle dedicated to STEAM programming for children and teens. Their STEAM van delivers the Exploration on Wheels program to library branches, neighborhoods, parks, and community centers to provide the community’s youth with fun and educational science and art activities.

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Bookmobiles Come to You

Not all bookmobiles travel by van or bus. Denver Public Library has one of the cutest bookmobiles around — Wheelie the Book Bike, a blue bicycle with a small trailer attached that can hold up to 150 books. Its petite size allows it to show up just about anywhere. Wheelie has appeared at schools, local festivals and fairs, neighborhoods, food banks, and homeless encampments. And the best part? Sometimes, Wheelie dresses up in costume! Library staff members have dressed Wheelie as a spider, a unicorn, and even a UFO for special occasions.

Fun Facts About Bookmobiles

No celebration is complete without learning some fun facts. Here are some things you may not know about bookmobiles:

  • As of 2019, there are 671 bookmobiles in the United States.
  • With 73 bookmobiles, Kentucky has the most bookmobiles in the country as of 2018 due to a high proportion of rural areas.
  • Bookmobiles have used multiple modes of transportation throughout the years, not just the van or bus you may be familiar with. Some bookmobiles have traveled by watercraft, trains, and carts pulled by horses, donkeys, elephants, and camels.
  • The first bookmobile in the U.S. is the Washington County Free Libraries book wagon which debuted in Maryland in 1905. This early traveling library brought books directly to people’s homes. How’s that for service?

Get Your Local Bookmobile Rolling

Does your public library have a bookmobile? Even if you live in an urban or suburban area, your local library system may still offer bookmobile services. And if they don’t? It doesn’t hurt to ask! Librarians are always looking for new ways to reach out to their communities.