Wheeled Wonders: a celebration of Bookmobiles

Students from Alexander after a bookmobile visit.

National Bookmobile Day is Wednesday April 10th, and all week we are celebrating the second birthday of our very own ICPL bookmobile!

I spend almost half of my work week on the Bookmobile, and my favorite statement that I often hear is, “I loved the Bookmobile when I was a kid.” I hear this from Iowa City residents of all ages with home towns all over the country. For many, visiting a Bookmobile is an experience they will never forget. Bookmobiles are nostalgic, and let’s face it, they’re just neat.

For more than 100 years bookmobiles have brought a library to those that otherwise may not have access to one. So, in honor of a holiday of celebrating the wonderful services bookmobiles all over the world provide, I have scoured the internet for the most “novel,” whimsical and just plain neat bookmobiles over the past century.


Originating in the nineteenth century, the earliest bookmobiles were horse-drawn wagons filled with boxes of books. However, in the 1920s, Sarah Byrd Askew, a New Jersey librarian, thought reading and literacy so important that she delivered books to rural readers in her own Ford Model T. (From the Multnomah County Library Archives.)




During the Great Depression, there was a fleet of "book women" who delivered books, regardless of weather, to rural communities in Appalachia. These women would ride 100-120 miles every week on horseback, traversing dangerous terrain, to ensure that their readers received their books on time. (From the Kentucky Library and Archives.)







The Biblioburro is a mobile library that brings books to children in remote rural areas of Colombia using two donkeys. It’s been the subject of a PBS POV film and inspired a popular children’s book, Waiting for the Biblioburro. (From the PBS POV Archive.)








Iowa’s first mobile library rolled out in 1926 via the County Library Committee of the Iowa Library Association. The idea of the book caravan, also known as “The Lydia”, was conceived by Miss Lydia Barrette, city librarian at Mason City. Every county in Iowa could secure the use of this library on wheels for a week at a cost of $50, to help stimulate interest in the levy of a tax so that each county might have its own library and caravan.



Here's some stunning photos of the Utah State Library Bookmobile is traveling near Zion National Park circa 1970. (From the Utah State Library.)






This Bookmobile Tank is a 'Weapon of Mass Instruction.' In 2015, Argentine artist Raul Lemesoff created a Ford Falcon-based "tank" that's armored with free books that he distributes, gratis, to people in and around Buenos Aires.

Garbage collectors in the Turkish capital Ankara decided to give discarded books a new life by creating a unique bookmobile that tours schools in suburban districts to impart the passion for reading in children. With a total population of 5.5 million people, the Turkish large capital province Ankara is divided into 25 districts, where not all schools have the privilege of a usable library. (From the Borneo Bulletin.)

BiebBus is a children’s mobile library from the Netherlands. A traditional bookmobile would be too big for the narrow Dutch streets, so the BiebBus can expand – vertically. The bottom room is filled with shelves with 7,000 children’s books. Through the transparent ceiling you can see the upper room, which is a wonderful reading and playing area. BiebBus has a total space of 52 square meters, and offers space for 30-45 kids.

Green Day's first tour bus was an old bookmobile van that drummer Tre Cool's dad refurbished into a unique tour bus. Last year, Green Day donated the dilapidated bookmobile to Wheels For Wishes to be restored, after which it was sent to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum in Cleveland. The proceeds from auctioning this donation will go towards helping Make-A- Wish grant wishes to local children. (From Wheels For Wishes)

The Mongolian Children’s Mobile Library carried by camel to nomadic herding communities and remote parts of the Gobi desert.









This is Bahman Beigi’s mobile library in Iran. Mohammad Bahman Beigi was a passionate activist who devoted his life to educate nomadic communities in Iran. In the 1970s he visited numerous desert villages, bringing in his jeep the books to read.

Last but not least, here are a few photos of our now 2-year old ICPL Bookmobile over the years!

ICPL's Bookmobile on the day of it's arrival 2 years ago this week!


Just recently, hitting 10,000 miles, the Bookmobile has been all across Iowa City, helping patrons of all ages in rain and shine, snow and heat, and anything else Iowa weather has to offer.

Please help us celebrate this week and year round by continuing to visit and use the resources our Bookmobile can offer!



Recent News

Add new comment