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The First Bookmobile

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years ago

The First Bookmobile


In 1905 a dream came true for Mary Titcomb, librarian of Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Maryland. Her dream was a mobile library service unit – the book wagon.

Mary was an energetic and enthusiastic lover of books who seemed to fit the librarian stereotype in many ways. She had a deep concern for her community and wanted to reach the residents of remote rural areas. Book stations were scattered throughout the county but were not accessible to people who were limited by time or transportation restrictions.

With a Carnegie grant of $2,500 in 1905, Titcomb commissioned a wagon maker to build a wagon based on a design she provided. To drive the wagon she recruited the library janitor, Joshua Thomas. Thomas was a native of the county and had a thorough understanding of the area roads. The first trips taken by the book wagon were met with indifference or apprehension. The black wagon was frequently mistaken for a hearse before it became a familiar sight to the residents. During the first six months of service the wagon made 31 trips, covered about 30 miles each day, and distributed 1,008 books. It provided mobile library service for the next several years. Unfortunately in 1910 the wagon was destroyed when it collided with a train. Thomas narrowly escaped death. By the time financing was obtained for a replacement, horse drawn wagons were quickly being replaced by motorized vehicles.

Mary Titcomb and the Washington library inspired many other communities to put book wagons/mobiles into service and within a few decades hundreds were on U.S. roads.


The above based on:

Smiler Levison, Nancy. “Takin it to the Streets: The History of the Book Wagon.” Library Journal, May 1, 1991

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