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Thursday, August 6, 2009

HOM: Bookmobile Flashback

I forgot about Bookmobiles! I don't know how I managed that. Back in the day when the Flathead still had a lot of rural schools, the bookmobile visits were one of the high points of the year. Now, I see that there are a total of eight in the entire state. Progress. Wikipedia:
  • A bookmobile or mobile library is a large vehicle designed for use as a library. They are designed to hold books on shelves so that when the vehicle is parked the books can be accessed by readers. They usually have sufficient space that people can also sit and read books inside them. Mobile libraries are often used to provide library services to villages and city suburbs without library buildings. They also service those who have difficulty accessing libraries, with retirement homes being common stops. They may also carry other information or computer equipment, such as might be found in a library. Some libraries also use their bookmobiles to deliver materials, such as audio books and large print novels, to homebound patrons who don't have anyone to go to the library for them.
  • The first Bookmobile in the United States was developed by Mary Lemist Titcomb[1] (1857-1932). While employed at the Washington County, Maryland Free Library, Titcomb was concerned that the library was not reaching all of the people it could. So, she worked on a plan for a book wagon. In 1905 the Washington County Free Library provided the first book wagon in the nation to residents by taking the books directly to their homes in remote parts of the county. [2]
  • The Gerstenslager company specialized in building mobile libraries and similar vehicles in the 1950s.
The one that visited us was pretty small, but held a treasure trove of books compared to our miniscule school library. I wish I could remember more of the details of the visits, but they are gone in memory's fog. I think they came once or twice a year but it may have been much more often. Whichever, it wasn't often enough to satisfy my book hunger. I remember that it would park in the yard in front of the school and open up for business. The teacher would send out the kids one bunch at a time, usually sorted by grade level, and each would pick out the allotted amount of books, then scurry back into the school with the treasures and start reading. All of us were readers, though I was a little more extreme than most of the other kids. What bubbled the bookmobile up to the surface of my soupy memory was seeing a copy of Parnassus On Wheels, a story of an itinerant bookseller and his horsedrawn store-on-wheels. It is a book-lover's classic.
  • Parnassus on Wheels is a 1917 novel written by Christopher Morley and published by Doubleday, Page & Company. The title refers to the Mount Parnassus of Greek mythology; it was the home of the Muses. Parnassus on Wheels is about a fictional traveling book-selling business. The original owner of the business, Roger Mifflin, sells it to 39-year-old Helen McGill, who is tired of taking care of her ailing older brother, Andrew.
  • “When you sell a man a book,” says Roger Mifflin, protagonist of this classic bookselling novel, “you don’t sell him just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue — you sell him a whole new life.” The new life the itinerant bookman delivers to Helen McGill, the narrator of Parnassus on Wheels, provides the romantic comedy that drives the novel. Published in 1917, Morley’s frst love letter to the traffic in books remains a transporting entertainment.
    Worthy friends, my wain doth hold
    Many a book, both new and old;
    Books, the truest friends of man,
    Fill this rolling caravan.
    Books to satisfy all uses,
    Golden lyrics of the Muses,
    Books on cookery and farming,
    Novels passionate and charming,
    Every kind for every need
    So that he who buys may read.
    What librarian can surpass us?
    By R. Mifflin, Prop'r.
    Star Job Print, Celeryville, Va.
If I had lived back in 1800's and had the chance, I'm not sure if I would have picked a "Parnassus on wheels" or a shantyboat on the Mississippi river complex that was fixed up as a floating bookmobile. Either would have been great. Any road, here is a pool on Flickr of Bookmobiles old and new that you might enjoy. TBC (Me) (Blacktail Books)


Jean&Vic said...

Boy, that brings back memories! I went to West Valley School in 1966 & 67. Still pretty small then. My teacher was Mrs Olson, and there were 6 kids in my first grade row. The bookmobile would come (if my failing memory serves) every month or so and us kids would swarm it. Dad had a fairly huge library but not much for my age. Evidently my older brother and sister weren't big on reading. I still remember my favorite books were from Thornton W. Burgess and I looked forward to the Bookmobile every month so I could get my allotment of reading material.