This journey started when I first learned about the packhorse librarians of the Great Depression. Research for that story led me to Luis Soriano’s biblioburro and Amy Baqer’s library rescue in Basra. What I also discovered along the way is there are many different types of bookmobiles in use around the world – camels, swamp boats, and elephants just to name a few. Bookmobile operators doing whatever they can to get the books into the hands of readers. Each of them a local hero in their own way.
Why is this important? Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan said,
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories.
Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right.
Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential. These aspirations merit our strongest possible support.”
I am blessed to live in an area rich with libraries. I love to read and I would be sad indeed if I were living somewhere without a library or other way to access books regularly.
Each bookmobile is unique to the geography, culture, and resources of the area. I read My Librarian Is a Camel. I recommend checking it out if you’d like more information about these unusual bookmobiles. The book has a better sampling than what I was able to dig up with a few quick searches.
Here are a few bookmobiles of interest from the book-
- The Blackpool Beach Library in England uses a wheelbarrow to deliver books to beach-goers. The only link I could find is from 1999 so I’m not sure if it is still running. Even if it was only a temporary bookmobile, it still deserves mention for creativity.
- In Finland, the Pargas Library brings books by boat to islands in the Gulf of Finland.
- Another book boat operates in Indonesia, along the river Kahayun. And in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, a book bicycle makes deliveries to readers.
- Library camels spend 5 days a week delivering books in Kenya. This camel-delivery service has been running since 1985.
- In Mongolia, a children’s book author, Dashdondog Jamba, started with a horse-drawn wagon and a camel to bring books until he upgraded to a minibus.
- The hard-to-reach mountainous region of northern Thailand are served by elephants.
Bookmobile libraries in action:
Reading about Bookmobiles
In my research I stumbled across this cozy mystery series about a man and his bookmobile in Northern Ireland. The Mobile Library Mystery Series is written by Ian Samson and currently has 4 published books with the intent to write 44 (!) installments in this series. I remember seeing one of these books on the shelf at my local library. I might have to check it out!
A local link
I discovered that Fairfax County, VA (where I live) also had one of the first bookmobiles in operation as early as 1890, though serving only one small section of the county at the time. Then in 1940, the WPA funded a truck to support county-wide bookmobile efforts. This bookmobile began operation on Saturday, March 16, 1940. The funding ended in 1942 but the bookmobile service continued. Our WPA bookmobile wasn’t as cool as the Packhorse Librarians but it’s still kind of fun to know that my library was involved in a similar WPA program.
Bookmobiles Change Lives
Here’s a video from StoryCorps about a little girl, Storm Reyes, who grew up in Native American migrant camps in Washington. The books gave her hope and knowledge of the outside world. When she grew up, she became a librarian.
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Ruurs, Margriet. My Librarian Is a Camel. Boyds Mills Press, 2005.
Messy Nessy Chic – an article with lots of cool pictures of old bookmobiles
Wiki article on bookmobiles
Mobile library cozy mystery series on Goodreads
History of Fairfax County Library on Rebel Roar