Wisconsin Library Heritage Center

The Wisconsin Library Heritage Center is a program of the Wisconsin Library Association Foundation promoting understanding and appreciation of the history of libraries and librarianship in Wisconsin.

Bookmobiles in Wisconsin Library History

Posted by Larry T. Nix
Larry T. Nix
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on Wednesday, April 13, 2016 in WLA 125
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Today is National Bookmobile Day and the focus of this blog post is bookmobiles in Wisconsin library history. Although there were some earlier uses of motor vehicles to deliver library service, bookmobile service as we know it today was first demonstrated in Wisconsin in 1940 using federal funding from the Works Progress Administration (WPA). Three bookmobiles were purchased by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission using WPA funds. One of the three bookmobiles was used for a demonstration in Shawano County. In March, 1942, following a successful demonstration, the first autonomous bookmobile service in the state was established in Shawano County. Bookmobile service in Shawano County continues today through the Shawno City-County Library. One of the three bookmobiles served Grant, Iowa, Crawford, and Rock counties. Operational funding for this demonstration which only served children was provided through contributions from 26 American Legion posts. The image above shows children using this bookmobile.  The first state funding for public library service in Wisconsin funded a bookmobile demonstration in Door and Kewaunee Counties in 1950-52. Although the demonstration was a success in terms of use by the residents of those counties, a referendum to continue the service failed in Kewaunee County. Although a similar referendum passed in Door County, both referendums were required to pass in order to continue the service.  In 1956 federal funding was made available to extend public library service to rural areas through the Library Services Act. The Wisconsin Free Library Commission developed a state plan for using this funding. It included the development of regional library systems, and bookmobiles were one component of that plan.  By 1993 there were 21 bookmobiles operating in Wisconsin.  Since then the number of bookmobiles has been reduced to eight. More about Wisconsin bookmobile history can be found HERE.
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