Origins of the Library “Bookmobile” in Washington County, Maryland

05/18/2016
By Preservation Maryland

The Washington County Free Library in Maryland was the first national library to utilize a bookmobile, basically a transportable library on wheels, to reach rural areas and provide access to books in 1905! The ingenious idea, and the access to literature and information it provided soon swept across the country…

Early bookmobiles may have been mistaken for dead wagons, but a new coat of paint helped differentiate these very different uses. Later, the bookmobile evolved from a horse-drawn carriage with bookshelves into to a motorized version when automobiles became available in 1912.

Once again, the Washington County Free Library was the first library in the United States to make the switch, largely because the original wagon was destroyed by a freight train while crossing the Norfolk and Western Railroad at St. James. Fortunately, the horses and driver were uninjured, but it took more than a year to purchase another bookmobile and when the time came, the use of wagons had become outdated.

bookmobile

 

THE LEGACY OF THE BOOKMOBILE IS PRESERVED EVEN TODAY

The bookmobile vehicles have continuously progressed over the past 110 years, from carriages, to automobiles, to buses, but the mission stays the same. Today, you can track the Washington County Free Library’s bookmobile by checking its online schedule.

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Photos courtesy of the Washington County Free Library’s Western Maryland Historical Library collection. Our Preservation Month posts were written and prepared by Rachel Rettaliata, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Rachel’s work with us focuses on communications and advocacy. She is a Fulbright Scholar, and will be attending the historic preservation program at the University of Maryland this fall. Learn more about Rachel and our intern program here: presmd.org/waxter.

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