Nowadays, you don’t have to put too much effort to get a free book from a library. You don’t even need to leave home. Just open your library’s website, and chances are big you could borrow a digital version of the book you want to read.
It was not always so easy.
The search phrase “library near me” didn’t work, because there was no internet, and – in many cases – there was no library near you.
And it’s where bookmobiles prove to be extremely useful.
Before the digital age, they were like a free access to the internet. They brought answers to questions people were looking for, and they brought entertainment. A lot of entertainment.
The first bookmobile in the world operated in Great Britain in the mid-19th century. Launched in 1857 by a philanthropist George Moore, the horse-drawn wagon served books from bookshelves mounted on the outside. This “perambulating” library traveled between eight villages in the Cumbria County, in North West England.
Before the digital age, bookmobiles were like a free access to the internet
A tradition of delivering library services using special vehicles is the strongest in the United States, but it doesn’t mean they were not present in other countries.
And this is what this overview is about: to give you a chance to see bookmobiles on the streets of France, Japan, India, Canada, Germany, Australia, Spain, Ghana, Sweden, and lots of other places around the globe.
We’ve also managed to discover a few mobile libraries that were used in former communist countries: Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia.
Obviously, the bookmobiles from the United States had to be included in this overview. However, instead of pictures you’ve already seen many times, you can enjoy rare images found directly on archive or blog pages of American public libraries.
Most importantly, each bookmobile has its story. You will find here not only the picture and date but also a more detailed information about each vehicle.
Bookmobile, book truck, book wagon, bookbus, bibliobus, mobile library – no matter which name you use, these vehicles are among the man’s most important inventions.
And the images you’ll see below are worth sharing not only during National Bookmobile Day. Enjoy!
50 vintage bookmobiles from around the world
Bookmobiles operated by the Library of Hawaii. Since the 1920s, the bookmobile service was delivered on an entire island by the Library of Hawaii.
The first bookmobile was the converted Ford Roadster. It launched in Maui in 1926. The vehicle was replaced by a half-ton Ford delivery van, shown on the upper picture.
Within a couple of years, the fleet of Hawaiian bookmobiles quickly grew. The second photograph shows one of the bookmobiles and its crew operating on the island in 1955. ⇢ Credits and more info.
The first bookmobile of the Prague library. The City Library of Prague is operating bookmobiles for over 75 years.
On the collage above, you see the library’s first bookmobile (Ústřední knihovna), visiting villages around Prague. The vehicle was launched in 1939, with 14 stops on the outskirts of the city. It was one of the first traveling libraries in Czechoslovakia. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Libreria Treves – an Italian mobile bookshop. A vehicle carrying books in most cases is affiliated with libraries, but it’s not the case of Libreria Treves. This book wagon was founded by an Italian publisher and editor, Emilio Treves, to help sell books from his publishing house.
The picture you see above appeared in L’Illustrazione Italiana in 1922 and shows Libreria Treves on her inaugural tour in Florence. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Book buses in Norrköping, Sweden. The Public Library of Norrköping, in eastern Sweden, delivered library services via bookmobiles since the early 1950s. The first bus (shown in the upper photo) was used until 1968.
The lower picture shows the third bookbus of the Norrköping Public Library, bought in 1980 and working for over 10 years. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile in Edmonton, Canada. This library bus was used by Edmonton Public Library, Alberta Province, in the 1960s. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bibliobus of the Perugia Library. A city of Perugia, Italy, was using a bookmobile to deliver books to nearby villages. The photos were made in 1955. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile service of the Albuquerque Public Library. In 1948, the Pilot Club donated a bookmobile to the Albuquerque Public Library, New Mexico.
On the picture above, you see the bookmobile in 1955, visiting Tijeras village in Bernalillo County. In the center, a librarian Marge Komadina. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile of the Sussex County Library. What’s special about this vehicle is that it was the first library of the Sussex County, New Jersey, before the first permanent location was found and opened.
A second-hand 3/4 ton Dodge truck was bought by the County in 1942 and rebuilt to serve books from outside bookshelves. The construction was supervised by Dorothy E. Henry, the County’s first librarian.
The Sussex County Library Bookmobile was capable of holding 1,200 books. In four years, Dorothy E. Henry traveled over 30,000 miles. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A book bus of the Library of Higashimatsuyama City, Japan. The bookmobile carried 3,000 books and was traveling between 14 stops around the city. The picture shows the book bus in front of Sakurayama Elementary School, in 1986. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile of King County Library System. Library branch of the rural district of King County, Washington, organized bookmobile service in 1944. In the 1950s, there were three trucks already, and they were covering 28 routes every three weeks. In 1950 alone, patrons borrowed 286,000 volumes from the bookmobiles. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Matleena – the book bus of Oulu Library. The Finnish town Oulu acquired first library vehicles in 1951. Matleena, operating in the 1970s, is the most famous bookmobile operated by the Oulu Public Library. In the first tour, 7,500 books were borrowed – more than from an adult department of the main library.
During the first year, Matleena helped borrow as much as 176,345 books. It’s still a record in the Oulu library system. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Büchergilde Gutenberg book bus. Gutenberg Book Guild (Büchergilde Gutenberg) is a German book club, with over 100,000 members.
The picture above was taken in the 1950s. The club’s book bus is standing on the bank of the Main river in Frankfurt. On the other side of the river, the Imperial Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew is seen. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile of the Gulfport Carnegie-Harrison County Library. Gulfport Carnegie-Harrison County Library, Mississippi, operated a bookmobile since 1941.
The library’s first vehicle was replaced in 1953 with the new one – the picture shows the grand opening ceremony. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A library truck in Bas-Rhin, France. A small Berliet truck was turned into a mobile library point, offering books from the Central Library of Bas-Rhin. ⇢ Credits and more info.
The first bookmobile in the United States. Mary Titcomb used this horse-drawn cart since 1905 to deliver books from the public library of Washington County to rural areas in Maryland.
This book wagon was a combination of a grocer’s delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart. It was used till 1910. “Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905.” ⇢ Credits and more info.
The first bookmobile in Great Britain. This Ford car was turned into a book van and started serving patrons of Perth and Kinross public libraries at the end of 1924. It is believed to be Britain’s first book wagon. The car was in regular use for the next ten years. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Topeka’s first library on wheels. Traveling Branch of the Topeka Public Library. The picture was taken in March 1943. ⇢ Credits and more info.
The first bibliobus in Rijeka. A City Library of Rijeka in Croatia (formerly a part of Yugoslavia) has a long tradition of offering services via mobile points. The first bookmobile was bought from the Italian publishing company Edit and officially started in June 1969.
The Rijeka bibliobus was capable of carrying 3,000 books. It was being sent on ten-day tours. Each one included over 50 stops. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bibliobus in Jura Department, France. Here is another bookmobile from France. Launched in 1967 by the Federation of Secular Societies of Jura, the bibliobus was traveling around Franche-Comté in eastern France.
On the picture above, you see the girls unpacking books from the bibliobus in Moissey village. The photo was taken in 1971. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A book truck of the Clay County Library. Clay County, Kentucky, received its first bookmobile in the late 1950s. The vehicle and services it offered were enthusiastically received by local communities.
The picture shows the ceremony of handing over the bookmobile, together with 800 books, to the Clay County Public Library. It took place at Kentucky State Fair. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile in Ghana. The picture, taken in 1955, shows a book van on Labadi beach, near Accra, in Ghana (at that time called Gold Coast). ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile of Brooklyn Public Library. There are lots of beautiful photographs of the Brooklyn Public Library’s bookmobiles, but we’ve selected one of the less-known ones. The image comes from a postcard collection of the Brooklyn Historical Society and shows BPL’s Library on Wheels visiting Glenwood Houses. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bibliobus of the Drenthe public library. The Netherlands: the first mobile library of the Drenthe library was called Jeugdboekenauto. It started operating in September 1959. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile edition of Mitsubishi Rosa. Mitsubishi Corporation offered in the 1980s a special version of the Rosa van that was intended to be used as a bookmobile. The picture comes from the catalog of special cars based on Mitsubishi Rosa, issued in 1983. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bookmobiles of Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal. A unique solution for a free mobile library service was used in Portugal. Between 1958 and 2002 one organization was running a large fleet of bookmobiles that covered an entire country. The organization was founded in 1956, following the will of Calouste Gulbenkian, a Portuguese petrol magnate.
Gulbenkian Foundation’s bookmobile service, called Service of Traveling Libraries (SBI), operated not only on the mainland but also the archipelagos.
On the upper photograph, you see bookmobile No. 33 stopping in Estremoz at the same time wedding ceremonies took place. ⇢ Credits and more info.
One of the first bookmobiles in India. Bookmobiles appeared in India in the early 1930s. One of the first vehicles designed to carry books was the bullock-drawn cart built by engineer Kanakasabhai Pillai.
Pillai’s book cart was visiting rural areas around Mannargudi, in Tamil Nadu state, south India. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookbus of the Malmö City Library. The picture was taken on the outskirts of Malmö, Sweden, in the 1950s. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile in Lake Macquarie, New South Wales, Australia. This Austin truck from 1948 was used as a bookmobile of the Lake Macquarie public library. The picture was taken in October 1950. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bookmobiles of the Saint Paul Public Library. The bookmobile seen on the first photograph started bringing books to communities in areas around Saint Paul, Minnesota, as early as in 1917.
The second picture was taken in the 1950s and shows a bookmobile run by John Amon and Betty Baugh reaching the next stop on its usual tour. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile of the Hannover Public Library. In the 1960s, you could see the library bus with the label Fahrbücherei der Hauptstadt Hannover on the outskirts of Hannover, Germany. It was launched by the city’s public library. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookbus of the Sogn and Fjordane County Library. The bus you see on a photograph was used in the Sogn and Fjordane county in Norway in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1996, after the newer vehicle arrived, the bookbus was donated to Folkre Library in Latvia, to promote democracy in the former Soviet republic. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A library truck in Indonesia. There is no info about this bookmobile and the date of the picture, except that it was made in Indonesia, in early 20th century. ⇢ Credits and more info.
New Zealand’s first mobile library for housewives. Known as “Gertie,” this Leyland bus became a traveling library of Dunedin City, New Zealand, in April 1950. Its interior was rearranged to accommodate about 1,000 books.
According to Dunedin City Council news at that time, the bus was the first service in New Zealand intended primarily for the use of housewives, offering a large selection of cookbooks, as well as books for children. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A mobile library of the German-American Institute in Freiburg. Carl-Schurz-Haus, a cultural institute from Freiburg, Germany, started a bookmobile service in 1952. The vehicle was full of books written by American authors, both in English and in German translation. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bookmobiles from Pilsen. Here is one of few images of traveling libraries operating in the former communist countries.
The picture was taken in the 50s of the 20th century and shows two Praga RN trucks converted into bookmobiles (Pojízdná knihovna) for the public library of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. ⇢ Credits and more info.
The first book wagon of Enoch Pratt Free Library. One of the oldest free library systems in the US, Enoch Pratt, started the bookmobile service in 1943 and continues to do so nowadays.
The first vehicle to distribute books in Baltimore, Maryland, was this horse-drawn cart rebuilt to carry books on the outside shelves. The picture was taken in 1943. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bibliobus at the Madrid Book Fair. Visitors of the Madrid Book Fair (La Feria del Libro) in 1955 saw the bibliobus launched by General Directorate of Archives and Libraries (Dirección General de Archivos y Bibliotecas). The photo was taken by Santos Yubero. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bookmobiles of the Calgary Public Library. Calgary Public Library opened in 1912 and it was the first public library in Alberta Province, Canada. Bookmobiles have always been among the most important activities.
The upper picture shows bookmobile staff and fleet of Calgary Public Library in 1968. On the lower photograph, you see one of the colorful bookmobiles operating in the 1970s. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bookmobiles of the Heerenveen Public Library. The public library of Heerenveen, the Netherlands, started using bookmobiles in 1962. Since that time, the number of library patrons and borrowed books started growing again.
The library buses, “Openbare Bibliotheek,” and “Bibliobus,” were used between 1962 and 1977. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A special mobile service offered by the Sydney Public Library. The State Library of New South Wales, Australia, offered in the 1950s a special service for the disabled borrowers – Mobile Library Service to the Infirm.
The picture above was taken in 1955, and shows the bookmobile parked outside the home of one of the patrons. “The librarian (Miss L. Heydon) is preparing to offer the borrower a selection of books.” ⇢ Credits and more info.
Library streetcar of the Edmonton Public Library, Canada. Most bookmobiles are rebuilt trucks or buses. In the short history of traveling libraries, you can find, however, more original constructions.
This converted streetcar was used as a mobile service of the Edmonton Public Library, serving in Calder area, in western Canada (Alberta Province). ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile in Fontenay-sous-Bois, France. The bibliobus was run by the Commune of Fontenay-sous-Bois, on the eastern suburbs of Paris. The picture was taken in 1973 near Place des Larris. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bahman Beigi’s mobile library in Iran. Mohammad Bahman Beigi was a thoughtful activist who devoted his life to educate nomadic communities in Iran. In the 1970s he was visiting numerous desert villages, bringing in his jeep the books to read. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bibliobus of the Olsztyn Public Library. Mobile libraries were serving communities in the Olsztyn region, Poland, since 1963.
Each day of the week, the bibliobus, operated by the Public Library of Olsztyn, took a route in a different direction, stopping at each village where there was no a library branch. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Bookmobiles in Cincinnati. The Public Library of Cincinnati & Hamilton County started operating mobile libraries in 1927 (see the upper picture).
At first, the library trucks were delivering books to schools in rural areas but eventually started round trips to other locations, as well. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile in Ecuador. The picture shows the bookmobile spotted on the streets of Ecuador. It was operated by the House of Ecuadorian Culture of Eugenio Espejo National Library. ⇢ Credits and more info.
One of the bookmobiles of the Austin Public Library. A Public Library of Austin, Texas, was running the bookmobile program from 1951 to 1979. The picture above was taken in the 1970s. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile of the Warsaw Public Library. A series of pictured shows a bookmobile reaching villages near Warsaw, Poland, in 1973. ⇢ Credits and more info.
Utah State Library bookmobile. Library trucks of the Utah State Library are serving local communities since 1947.
The picture above shows one of the earlier bookmobiles, launched in 1958 by Utah State Library Commission. The library truck was operating on a three-week schedule, traveling to several nearby counties and offering library service for many communities for the first time.
In the first year, the USL bookmobile circulated over 100,000 books. ⇢ Credits and more info.
A bookmobile of Edizioni Labor publishing house. The last picture in this overview shows one of the most creative vehicles ever created to promote books and reading.
Based on a chassis of Fiat 615, this cosmic vehicle was used as a mobile bookshop by a Milan-based publishing house Edizioni Labor. The image was scanned from the 1953 edition of the Milan newspaper. ⇢ Credits and more info.
• • •
Keep exploring. Here are other Best 50 compilations: