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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.

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.