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 15 years. At the end of 2007 there were only eight bookmobiles operating in Wisconsin. This was down from twenty-one in 1993. 

Popular Tags

Nolan I. Neds Carnegie libraries Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Gertrude Thurow CCBC Kimberly-Little Chute Public Library DeForest Area Public Library Wisconsin Free Library Commission anniversaries Campaign 27 Peter G. Hamon Hall of Fame 2014 Bookmobiles Campaign campaign Library History Edward Asahel Birge 20 Tower Hill Wisconsin buil Brown County Library Lutie Eugenia Stearns Events bookworm ca Campaing for Wisconsin Libraries School of Library and Information Studies Sarah Janice Kee 21 Milwaukee Art Museum S. Janice Kee Ice Storm cam Library Buildings Library Buidlings Events & Meetings Hartford Public Library Elroy Public Library Wisconsin Library Heritage Center Hall of Fame 2008 Bernard Schwab Brown Deer Public Library Association of Library Trustees Advocates and Friends Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Ripon Public Library Cooperative Children's Book Center 28 Superior Carnegie Libraries Soughton Public Library Hall of Fame 2012 Academic Libraries J. D. Witter Richard E. Krug Suring Area Public Library Historical Register Zona Gale Eager Free Public Library Exhibits Wisconsin Library Association Oshkosh Public Library John Miller Chancellor Wilbur Lyle Eberhart Wisconsin Library Trustees and Friends Gilbert H. Doane Clarence Brown Lester Portage Public Library American Library Association Library War Service caly film Special libraries hall of Uncategorized Middleton Public Library Milwaukee Public Library Brown Deer Public Library Delia Ovitz National Library Week Manitowoc Public Library Wisconsin Historical Society Pewaukee Public Library Beaver Dam Public Library Hall of Fame 2011 Postcards caly film McMillan Memorial Library National Bookmobile Day Library Artifacts Hall of Fame 2010 Hall of Fame 2013 Rusk County Community Library 22 Wisconsin Rapids caly film Gerald A. Somers Anniversaries Wisconsin State Normal School-Milwaukee Cam campa traveling libraries Library People Library celebrations Hall of Fame 2012 Madison Public Library People Digital Collections Marketing-Publicity Hall fo Fame 2012 24 bed and breakfast Public libraries archives Library Trustees Clinton Public Library Anniversaries campaign Milwaukee Public Library 23 Hall of Fame 2012 Katharine MacDonald Jones Ruth Ann Montgomery Campaign library memorabilia Wisconsin Library Bulletin Postcards Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries WWI Library War Service Library people 11 T. B. Scott Free Public Library 10 UW-Milwaukee Libraries Library people Postcards Woman's Congress Publications Wisconsin Free Library Commission Hall of Fame 2009 campaign Evansville Wisconsin Cornelia Marving Pierce Hall Appleton Public Library 14 Frank Avery Hutchins library exhibit Carl Spitzweg School libraries Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Library Systems background Beloit Public Library Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Postcards presentations

Wisconsin Library Association Foundation Logo

Campaign for Wisconsin Libraries Logo