History of the Bookmobile

By Olivia Buck

Since I began my training to become a Bookmobile Driver, I have been a bit Bookmobile crazed. I’ve learned so much about the Bookmobile itself, but I have also learned about the history of our Bookmobile service at Bloomington Public Library. This has included information about the history of Big Bs past and present, as well as stories from other drivers about Bookmobile adventures and mishaps. I’ve put together a short history of our wonderful Bookmobiles.

This photo courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

Bloomington Public Library’s Bookmobile program began in the fall of 1930. The library, called Wither’s Public Library at the time, bought a motorized book wagon and distributed books at 10 different offsite locations.

This photo courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

In 1961, the library purchased a used bookmobile from Moline Public Library. This new-to-us Bookmobile could carry 1,500 books at a time.

These photos courtesy of McLean County Museum of History.

In 1965 a new Bookmobile was purchased. However, in 1976, the Bookmobile’s lower panels had rusted and thus the Bookmobile was reconditioned and given a beautiful new paint job. The name Wither’s Public Library was removed from the Bookmobile as the new Bloomington Public Library was set to open in 1977.

These photos courtesy of McLean County Museum of History.

In 1979, a new Bookmobile was purchased. This one came with a slogan written on the back which said, “We Move Our TALES for You.” In 1990, this bookmobile received a new cab, chassis, and paint job. That year, the Golden Prairie Public Library District (GPPLD) began contracting with Bloomington Public Library to offer library services to residents of the Golden Prairie Library District. This means that this Bookmobile was the first to visit stops outside of Bloomington in the townships of Arrowsmith, Old Town, Dale, and Dawson.

This photo courtesy of McLean County Museum of History.

In February of 1999, Bloomington Public Library purchased a new Bookmobile.This Bookmobile could hold up to 6,000 items. It was also the first to be outfitted with staff computers which arrived in 2000. When Bloomington Public Library replaced this Bookmobile, it received a new paint job and moved to Palmetto, Florida where it serves the Kiwanis Club by bringing free books to children.

These photos courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.

After 16 years of service, we replaced the previous Bookmobile in April of 2015 with our current Big B. This Bookmobile visits over 40 stops throughout the Bloomington Public Library and Golden Prairie Public Library Districts.

Over the last 90 years at Bloomington Public Library, we have had 8 versions of Bookmobiles, many drivers, and have served countless patrons in Bloomington and beyond. I am so honored and excited to get to be one of the newest members of the Bookmobile Driver team that we currently have working at Bloomington Public Library.


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