Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Looking Back: Lives Changed by the Bookmobile

National Library Week 2014 may have ended Saturday, but this year’s theme “Lives change @ your library,” lives on. Of the various services the library has offered over the years, none exemplified this theme more than the now-defunct Belmont County Bookmobile.

A photograph of the bookmobile as it appeared in 1961.

The bookmobile was a vehicle with a mission. It sought to provide books and other library materials to rural areas with no easy access to stationary libraries. In its travels, it spread the written word to people of all ages, livelihoods, and tastes.

The bookmobile was more than a source of literature, however. It was a gateway to new and necessary information, a valuable and often rare commodity in the days before the internet. One article in the November 10, 1964 issue of the Columbus Sunday Dispatch Magazine recounts the story of a young mother who "came [to the bookmobile] with the plea that she had to have 'a book that tells what to do with twins.'" She had raised her other children with relative ease, but rearing twins was an altogether new experience for her. The bookmobile provided the resources she needed, including "a special book with schedules and hints for mothers with double trouble." 

Other patrons included the 81-year-old Augusta Fulton, who called the bookmobile "the most wonderful thing in her life." She and many other elderly library patrons appreciated the bookmobile for giving them the chance to check out books without the hassle of a trip to one of the county's stationary libraries.

 Even I made good use of the bookmobile's services. As a child, my library visits were limited by my parents' whims and availability. Regular bookmobile visits to my grade school, St. Joseph Central in Bridgeport, Ohio, alleviated that problem. The bookmobile's selection wasn't quite as grand as that of our main library, but I wasn't a picky reader. There was always something waiting for me on the bookmobile's shelves.

Though taken more than thirty years before I had ever stepped foot in a bookmobile, this 1960 photograph of uniformed children filing through its doors is a familiar scene.

Though our bookmobile is out of service, others around the country still run their routes. The vans, as well as the selection within, have been updated, but their mission hasn't changed. In many pockets of the world, bookmobiles and other mobile library services continue to change lives for the better.

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