Modern bookmobile service is thought to have its roots in the late 19th Century.
The first bookmobile service in the U.S. is widely acknowledged to have started in 1905 by Mary Lemist Titcomb in Washington County, Maryland. Titcomb, the first librarian of the Washington County Free Library, saw the need to expand library services from the main location in Hagerstown to homes across the largely rural county. Initially, the service saw materials distributed to general stores, post offices, and other locations throughout the county via the library’s wagon – initially serving 66 locations.
Unsatisfied by this, Titcomb sought to create what she referred to as a “Library Wagon” and began consulting with wagon makers to design a purpose-built horse-drawn wagon. Staffed by a librarian and a driver, the new Library Wagon began its service, visiting farms and homes across the county. In 1912, the county acquired its first motorized bookmobile, and the service over time has been expanded from rural service to stops at senior citizen centers, schools, and other locations, and continues to present day.
In India, the concept of a mobile library was introduced in 1931 during a meeting of the Madras Library Association. Promoted by S.R. Ranganathan, considered “The Father of Library Science” in India, this two-wheeled cart – the first mobile library in Southern Asia – echoed his ideals of library service as a means to help improve rural education.
Bookmobiles can be found around the world, in many different forms – from the familiar bus or van-like vehicles to other means of transport, including a biblioburro in rural Colombia, a camel library service in Uganda, the M.S. Epos library ship in Norway, and elephant libraries in Thailand.