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

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

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo