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

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

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo