The first bookmobile in the United States was introduced in Washington County,
Maryland in 1905. Mary Titcomb, the first librarian of Washington County Free
Library, Maryland, considered seriously the need for the library to become a
County Library. Her task was to get books in homes throughout the county, not
just in Hagerstown, the county seat. The first step was to send boxes of books
on the Library Wagon to the general store or the post office in small towns and
villages throughout the county. By 1904 boxes with 30 volumes each were sent to
66 deposit stations, to extend the reach of the library and manage the
practical distribution to the books.
But Miss Titcomb was not satisfied. As she wrote in The Story of the Washington
County Free Library
Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and
visible signs of the service for which the Library stood, do much more in
cementing friendship? Would the upkeep of the wagon after the first cost be
much more than the present method? Is not Washington County with its good roads
especially well adapted for testing an experiment of this kind, for the
geography of the County is such that it could be comfortably covered by well
planned routes? These and other aspects of the plan were laid before the Board
of Trustees - who approved of the idea, and forthwith the librarian began
interviewing wagon makers and trying to elucidate her ideas with pen and
pencil. The first wagon, when finished with shelves on the outside and a place
for storage of cases in the center resembled somewhat a cross between a
grocer's delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart of by gone New England days.
Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr.
Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started
on its travels in April 1905.
No better method has ever been devised for reaching the dweller in the country.
The book goes to the man, not waiting for the man to come to the book. Psychologically
too the wagon is the thing. As well try to resist the pack of a peddler from
the Orient as the shelf full of books when the doors of the wagon are opened by
Miss Chrissinger at one's gateway.
The wagon, driven by Joshua Thomas, covered many miles over the county roads
delivering books to remote houses. There was some initial resistance. Miss
When directions were given as to painting, we had
the fear of looking too much like the laundry wagon before our eyes, and the
man was strictly enjoined, not to put any gilt or scroll work on it but to make
even the lettering, "Washington County Free Library," plain and dignified,
directions carried out only too well, for in the early days of our wagoning, as
our man approached one farm house, he heard a voice charged with nervous
trepidation, call out "Yer needn't stop here. We ain't got no use for the dead
wagon here." Suffice it to say, that we promptly painted the wheels red, and
picked off the panels of the doors with the same cheerful color.
In August 1910 the original book wagon was destroyed. While crossing the Norfolk
and Western Railroad track at St. James a freight train ran into it leaving
literally nothing but fragments. In 1912 a motorized book wagon was introduced,
the first of a long fleet of vehicles, taking books to the men, women and
children of Washington County, Maryland, not just those in the rural areas, but
those in senior citizen homes, head start programs, schools and many other
As Miss Titcomb noted: "Any account of this first Book Wagon work, the first in
the United States would be incomplete without the statement that this method of
rural library extension has been adopted in many states in the Union, and that
new book wagons are being put in operation each year." Indeed bookmobiles are
now found as part of many library systems around the world, utilizing vans and
buses, but also boats, camels and even donkeys. From the first "perambulating
library" in Warrington, England in 1858 to the first 20th century book wagon in
the United States in 1905, to the more modern book and media delivery systems,
libraries are still taking their wares to an appreciative public.
|This collection includes photographs of the
first book wagon and bookmobiles over the years, traveling throughout
Washington County, Maryland. There are also photographs of the deposit
stations, the precursor to the Branch Libraries, and the early story times,
both still an integral part of the Washington County Free Library.
The photographs are from an album and a collection that the library owns, and a
photograph album belonging to Miss Chrissinger, the librarian who was in charge
of the book wagon and later bookmobiles. The Chrissinger collection was
recently donated to the library by Rosalie Layman of Hagerstown. The captions
are those found in the photograph albums. Any assistance in identifying
individuals and locations would be appreciated.