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

Traveling libraries were the primary vehicle for extending library service to rural areas in Wisconsin for a number of decades. Lutie Stearns, the major early proponent of traveling libraries, also proposed using a bookmobile to supplement traveling libraries in 1904. That proposal was never implemented, however.

The Racine Public Library used a vehicle to extend library service to Racine County around 1922, but this may have only been used to deliver traveling libraries. Racine Public Library Librarian Muriel Marchant is pictured below with the vehicle which was referred to as the "library car".  In 1931, in its busiest year ever, it traveled 7,400 miles. The image is used with permission of the Racine Public Library.

bkm-wi-racine-72.jpg

Bookmobile service as we know it 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 deomonstration, 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 below shows children using this bookmobile.  

bkm-wi-sw-72.jpg

In 1948 the Racine Public Library implemented its modern version of bookmobile service by converting a school bus for use as a bookmobile. Bookmobile service from the Racine Public Library continues today. 

The Marathon County Public Library also implemented bookmobile service around this time. The image below shows children in front of the bookmobile of the Marathon County Library Service in the winter of 1949-50. A woman identified as Mrs. Stensberg is also shown. Permission to use the image (WI.400368.bib) was granted by the Marathon County Public Library. Additional images of bookmobile service in Marathon County are in the Libraries and Schools in Marathon and Lincoln Counties Collection.

bkm-wi-marathon-400368l-large.jpg

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 service. Christine Pawley who has written extensively on the Door-Kewaunee Regional Library published an article in the Summer 2008 issue of the  Wisconsin Magazine of History entitled "The Wisconsin Idea in Action: Reading, Resistance & the Door-Kewaunee Regional Library, 1950-1952". The article includes several images of the bookmobile in operation. 
 

bkm-wi-door-kewaunee-72.jpg

bkm-wi-door-kewaunee-whs2.jpg

Image from the Wisconsin Historical Society's digital collection.

 In 1956 federal funding was made available to extend public library service to rural aread 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. The postcard below shows one of the bookmobiles purchased to implement this plan. The text on the back reads: "Wisconsin Free Library Commission State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin" "Inquire about a bookmobile exhibit or project for your area, made possible in Wisconsin by a Federal-grants program to the Commission."

bkm-wi-wflc-72.jpg

The Gerstenslager Co. was a major manufacturer of bookmobiles and agressively marketed their bookmobiles following the passage of the Library Services Act with postcards showing bookmobiles. The message and address side of one of these postcards is shown below. It is addressed to S. Janice Kee who served as Secretary of the Wisconsin Library Commission from 1956 to 1965.

bkm-wi-wflc-kee-72.jpg

Bookmobiles have undergone a steady decline in use in Wisconsin over the last two decades. At the end of 2014 there were only eight bookmobiles operating in Wisconsin. This was down from twenty-one in 1993. 

Categories

Popular Tags

Larry T. Nix Katharine MacDonald Jones Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries Oshkosh Public Library Cooperative Children's Book Center School of Library and Information Studies National Bookmobile Day ca WLA 125 People Wisconsin Historical Society Brown County Library Robert Bocher Madison Public Library Marjorie Sornson Malmberg Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Dianne McAfee Hopkins Hall of Fame 2012 Richard E. Krug Hall of Fame 2008 Anniversaries Wayne A. Wiegand Bookmobiles Inform Wisconsin Wisconsin Literary Travel Guide I Love Libraries Hall of Fame 2012 state historical society Marketing-Publicity Nolan I. Neds Lutie Stearns Pinback buttons 27 Helen Adams William J. Wilson Eratus Swift Wilcox Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Ice Storm bookworm Publications Library People Hall of Fame 2015 Portage Public Library Campaign Public libraries DeForest Area Public Library membership libraries Uncategorized books-by-mail School libraries Events & Meetings 28 campaign library education Louise S. Robbins 10 Special libraries Rusk County Community Library Hall fo Fame 2012 State Law Library background archives Hall of Fame 2015 Tower Hill Wisconsin Library e library legislation Postcards traveling libraries hall of Beloit Public Library Wisconsin Library Association Hall of Fame 2016 Eager Free Public Library Appleton Public Library Hall of Fame 2011 Campaign UW-Milwaukee Libraries Hall of Fame 2015 American Library Association Library War Service anniversaries Campaign Clinton Public Library Orrilla Blackshear Lutie Eugenia Stearns buil Peter G. Hamon James Duane Doty James Huff Stout Parcel post Academic Libraries Milwaukee Public Library WLA 125 Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries bed and breakfast campaign Carl Spitzweg Brown Deer Public Library Digital Collections Beaver Dam Public Library Library Trustees National Library Week Hall of Fame 2009 22 Hartford Public Library Library people Hall of Fame 2018 Edward Asahel Birge Public libraries Governor's Conference on Library and Information Services Woman's Congress 11 Library Systems Frank Avery Hutchins Black River Falls 24 World War I Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries campa Library celebrations Hall of Fame 2013 Suring Area Public Library Postcards Matthew S. Dudgeon WHCLIS Zona Gale Dorothea M. Krause Lowell W. Wilson John Miller Chancellor presentations Bob Bochfer Hall of Fame 2015 Centennial Historical Register Ruth Ann Montgomery Meter mail slogans Postcards Jerome P. Daniels American Library Association 23 Delia Ovitz Wisconsin Free Library Commission Academic Librarians trav Gilbert H. Doane Carnegie libraries 14 Cam Gertrude Thurow Buttons Charles Bunge John J. Jax Milwaukee Public Library White House Conference on Library and Information Services Hall of Fame 2017 S. Janice Kee Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library Hall of Fame 2018 Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee Hall Bernard Schwab caly film Council on Library and Network Development Hall of Fame 2012 McMillan Memorial Library Wisconsin Free Library Commission Brown Deer Public Library Evansville Wisconsin WLA 125 Library Artifacts Clarence Brown Lester Anniversaries Hall of Fame 2014 Jane K. Billings Ruby Roeder WLA 125 Wisconsin Rapids library memorabilia library exhibit Library Buidlings Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Irene W. Newman campaign J. D. Witter Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends T. B. Scott Free Public Library CCBC Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians caly film Sandra Friedman Dolnick caly film Manitowoc Public Library Soughton Public Library Milwaukee Art Museum Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Wisconsin State Law Library Amer Ripon Public Library Public library systems WWI Library War Service 20 cam Cornelia Marving Pierce Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends Hall of Fame 2015 Exhibits Wisconsin Library Bulletin Capitol Fire 1904 Klaus Linderfelt Library people Postcards Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries UW-Madison school of library and information studies Events Increase A. Lapham Elroy Public Library WAAL 21 Events & Meetings Library History Sarah Janice Kee Superior Carnegie Libraries UW-Milwaukee School of Information Studies Middleton Public Library COLAND Library Buildings Lucy E. Smith Morris Hall of Fame 2010 Black River Falls Public Library Pewaukee Public Library Gerald A. Somers

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo