Posts Tagged ‘Bookmobiles’
Americans like me who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s (in other words–old!) are likely to fondly remember bookmobiles. In some small or rural communities, they were the only way to borrow books. Today, there are less than 1,000 bookmobiles in use in the U.S. That could be because more than 306 million people in the U.S. lived within a public library service area in 2014. And anyone with a computer or smartphone can get free access to e-books and audiobooks, as well as the printed versions, from their local library.
But in other parts of the world, it’s not so easy. In many countries, there are very few public libraries, and in some, even schools don’t have books or libraries. And with only 35 percent of the world’s population connected to the internet, there are vast numbers of people–especially children–who have no way to gain access to books. In honor of National Library Week, this post explores six visionary mobile libraries that go to great lengths to promote the love of reading and literacy throughout their little part of the globe.
Argentina: Arma de Instruccion Masiva
In Argentina, the artist Raul Lemesoff converted a green 1979 Ford Falcon purchased from the Argentine armed forces into a tank-like vehicle with enough shelf space for 900 books, offering everything from novels to poetry. Lemesoff was inspired to build his Arma de Instruccion Masiva (Weapon of Mass Instruction) as a way of counteracting fear with education. On World Book Day in March 2015, he drove around the urban centers and rural communities of Argentina, offering free books to people on the street, as long as they promised to read them.
In 1990, a primary school teacher in Colombia named Luis Soriano Bohorquez was inspired to save rural children in Colombia’s Magdalena province from illiteracy. Every Saturday at dawn, Luis sets out to 15 select villages with his two donkeys, Alfa and Beto (their names combined translate to “alphabet”). Luis rides Alfa up to four hours each way, with Beto following behind carrying a sitting blanket and more books. Children get homework help, learn to read or listen to stories and geography lessons that he prepares. Soriano started his library with just 70 books from his own collection. Thanks to donations, he now has some 4,800 books piled up in his little house in the small town of La Gloria. In 2011, PBS made a documentary film about his work, Biblioburro: The Donkey Library.Italy: Bibliomotocarro
In 2003, retired teacher Antonio La Cava realized that children in the local villages of the Basilicata region in southern Italy didn’t have easy access to books. He bought a used Piaggio Ape motorbike van and modified it, creating the Bibliomotocarro (the Library Motor Car). The small, bright blue vehicle resembles a tiny house–including a Spanish-tiled roof, a chimney, and large glass windows that display the over 1,200 books inside. There are also built-in speakers to play the organ music he uses to announce his arrival. Each month, he travels over 500 kilometers (about 300 miles) to eight different villages, where children gather in the squares to wait for him.
Mongolia: Children’s Mobile Library
Dashdondog Jamba is a children’s book writer and publisher and has translated more than fifty children’s books by foreign writers into Mongolian. His Children’s Mobile Library transports books to children in the remote regions of the Gobi desert, and throughout every province of Mongolia. Since the early 1990’s, he has faced the challenges of mountainous terrain and severe weather conditions to travel over 50,000 miles by camel, on horseback, on carts pulled by horses or oxen, and more recently, with a van. Assisted by his wife and son, they often remain in one place for several days to allow as many children as possible to read the books.
Norway: Bokbaten Epos
In a coastal country that includes many islands and islets, with remote hamlets located along the fjords, the sea is often the easiest way to reach some communities. In 1959, a group of librarians in Hordaland pioneered the concept of a floating library. At first, a refurbished tobacco cutter was used, and it was an immediate success. In 1963, a larger 85-foot boat was specially built to serve as the seafaring mobile library. The new vessel also offers cultural programs such as films, plays, puppet shows and visits with authors. Bokbaten Epos (the Library Boat) carries about 6,000 books to the residents of 150 small communities in three counties along the West coast of Norway who don’t have their own libraries.
Pakistan: Bright Star Mobile Library
When Saeed Malik returned to his home country of Pakistan in 2004 after working for the United Nations World Food Program for 35 years, he learned that most government and private elementary schools in the rural areas of the Islamabad Capital Territory did not have library services or books of their own. He founded the Bright Star Mobile Library in 2011 to introduce young Pakistanis to the world of reading and books. Four refurbished U.N. jeeps make weekly visits to about 20 elementary schools in the outskirts of the capital city, carrying over 1,000 books and serving nearly 6,000 young students.
Libraries Transform. Whether a library is on land, sea, or even donkey, those who bring books and resources to their local community are truly agents of transformation.
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National Bookmobile Day is coordinated by the ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services (OLOS), the Association of Bookmobile and Outreach Services (ABOS), and the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL) as part of National Library Week.
One of my favorite memories of growing up in the 1960s was of visiting the bookmobile when it made its stop about a quarter mile down the road from my home every two weeks. My siblings and I would ride our bikes—all equipped with a wire book basket—and were each allowed to check out 5 books. Sadly, it would only take me a couple days to breeze through those books and then I would have to wait until the bookmobile made its next visit. What I wouldn’t have given for a Nook or a Kindle back in the day!
The idea of bookmobiles was developed by Librarian Mary L. Titcomb of the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Maryland, in April 1905. Titcomb was concerned that her library was not meeting the needs of patrons in the rural communities surrounding Hagerstown. She packed a black wagon pulled by two horses with books and sent it out driven by the library’s janitor.
Within a few years mobile libraries came into use, and by the mid-20th century bookmobiles were a part of American life. Over 2,000 bookmobiles traveled the rural roads and inner-city streets to provide library services to areas that had no actual library buildings. Bookmobiles also provided resources to groups and individuals—senior citizens, disabled people, child-care centers—who were unable to visit a library building.
By the 1980s the number of bookmobiles began to decline due to financial cut-backs and the cost of running and maintaining the bookmobiles. Although there are fewer than 1,000 bookmobiles in use in the U.S. today, they still provide great value to the patrons that visit them and have even expanded their services to include items like computers, internet workstations, DVDs, and video games as well as other programs and classes.
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To learn more about the history of bookmobiles, visit our eLibrary Research Topic Page: Bookmobiles.