Histories of the traveling libraries

Histories of the traveling libraries

Some little-discussed history of the traveling library:

One day in 1905, an Allegheny farmer was hoeing a garden patch near the road of his farm when he heard the sound of wheels and hooves behind him. Turning around, he was amazed to find a large and foreboding black wagon drawn by two horses. He was certain it was a hearse.

Indignantly, the farmer waved it on, shouting, “You needn’t stop. We’ve no use for that death wagon around here.” The driver, however, paid him no heed and continued right on up to the barnyard where he stopped, introduced himself, and presented America’s first traveling library.

See also:
Takin’ It To The Streets: The History of the Book Wagon

Mary L. Titcomb, who sent out that first traveling library in 1905, popularized it evidenced via all kinds of metrics. In fact today, all 50 U.S. states still have traveling branch library services. “They’re traveling cathedrals of beauty and truth and peace,” says Anne Lamott.

[Image: Sixteen views of library patrons, adults and children, entering or leaving Brooklyn Public Library bookmobile in various Brooklyn locations. Via The Bookmobile]

But to me, nothing is more powerful than this insight by a 1930s rural Illinois teacher who watched her class pay their first visit to the bookmobile:

As I watched the children it struck me with force: you cannot measure the value of the bookmobile in dollars and cents, any more than you can measure the value of a new scientific discovery, or a new system of philosophy, or the life of a good man or woman. These good, new, attractive, interesting books that the little ones were picking out for the first time and the eager smart minds – they would fuse, strike, fire, open a new vista, and bring deeper ambition and greater awareness to life and people.

Great things, attractive things, remarkable things, then, can only be understood not by what they have already made possible, but what is yet to come.

[Image: Lake Macquarie Shire mobile library, 20 October 1950, by Sam Hood. Via flickr, via Maria Popova]