• A bookmobile from the Athens Regional Library brings books to a local woman with an "invalid husband," 1948. Courtesy of the Athens Regional Library via Digital Library of Georgia.

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    Photograph of the Athens Regional Library bookmobile, Athens, Georgia, 1948 September
    • Date
    • 1948-09
    • Description
    • Photograph of Mrs. Asbell, a housewife with an invalid husband, coming out to meet the Athens Regional Library bookmobile in Athens, Georgia, September 1948.
    • Rights
    • Http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia
    • Contributing Institution
    • Athens-Clarke County Library (Athens, Ga.)

  • School students visit the Athens Regional Library bookmobile (funded in part by the WPA, as noted on the car door), 1944. Courtesy of the Athens Regional Library via Digital Library of Georgia.

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    Photograph of the Athens Regional Library bookmobile at the Crawford School, Athens, Georgia, 1944 December 13
    • Date
    • 1944-12-13
    • Description
    • Photographs of students from the Crawford School in Oglethorpe County visiting the Athens Regional Library bookmobile.
    • Rights
    • Http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/NoC-US/1.0/
    • Partner
    • Digital Library of Georgia
    • Contributing Institution
    • Athens-Clarke County Library (Athens, Ga.)

  • A bookmobile stopped in a South Carolina neighborhood, serving African American children, 1967. Courtesy of the Charleston Archive at CCPL via South Carolina Digital Library.

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    Bookmobile stopped in Remley Point, Mt Pleasant
    • Date
    • 1967-08
    • Creator
    • Schwartz, Louis
    • Description
    • Bookmobile stopped in neighborhood in Mount Pleasant, serving African American children. Caption on back: "Aug. 1967. Remley's Point bookmobile stop.
    • Rights
    • Digital image copyright 2014, Charleston County Public Library. All rights reserved. For more information contact the Charleston Archive, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston, SC 29401. http://www.ccpl.org.
    • Partner
    • South Carolina Digital Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • The Charleston Archive at CCPL

  • Children lining up outside of a New York Public Library bookmobile in the Bronx during the 1950s. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

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    Bookmobile, Bronx, 1950s
    • Date
    • 1950 - 1959
    • Standardized Rights Statement
    • https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/
    • Partner
    • The New York Public Library
    • Contributing Institution
    • New York Public Library Archives. The New York Public Library

The first bookmobile in the United States took to the roads in the early 1900s. It was a horse-drawn carriage taking stacks of books to rural parts of Maryland. The librarian who started that program for the Washington County Free Library system, Mary Titcomb, described the bookmobile program's success: "The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book."

Bookmobiles increasingly became a way for libraries to connect with patrons outside of the physical building, as vehicles brought books to seniors, schoolchildren, and most prevalently, families living in rural parts of the country. Community bookmobiles also brought library services to segregated communities throughout the south, as well as to schools on Native American reservations. For many of these isolated parts of the community, bookmobiles helped encourage access to literacy and connect families with books in a way never before possible. They began as a low-cost initiative for most libraries and spread throughout the early 1900s, but the Great Depression and World War II cut the growth of these programs and production of the bookmobiles themselves.

The Library Services Act of 1956, and its emphasis on rural library development, helped revive the bookmobile. Not only did the LSA help add more than five million books and materials to rural libraries, it put 200 new bookmobiles on the road. The combined effort meant that in many county and regional libraries, book circulation was up by more than forty percent.