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.

The Training of a Bookmobile Driver – Part 1

By Olivia Buck

At the end of January, I moved into a new position at Bloomington Public Library. I became an LTA, the Home Delivery Coordinator, and a Bookmobile driver all at once. Of course, when I started the position, I did not have a commercial driver’s license. Therefore, my Bookmobile driver training began!

A little background about our Bookmobile (lovingly called Big B by many library staff members) at Bloomington Public Library. We drive to over forty locations throughout Bloomington and the Golden Prairie Public Library District. In addition to our regular stops, the Bookmobile also makes special appearances at various community events.

Although some mobile libraries are built on the frames of former-school buses, our Big B was custom-built to be a Bookmobile. The Bookmobile weighs 33,000 pounds, is 32.5 feet long, 8 feet wide, and is 12.25 feet tall. It is stocked with materials for all ages, totalling at approximately 3,000 items for each stop that the Bookmobile visits. Those who come onto the Bookmobile will find a variety of fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, magazines, music, movies, and videogames.

Big B!

With the help of the six Bookmobile drivers at Bloomington Public Library, I have started my training. These are the steps of the process that I will going through in order to get my commercial driver’s license:

Step 1: Read the Illinois CDL Study Guide (AKA study, study, practice test, study)

Step 2: Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) Test & Air Brake Endorsement Test

Step 3: Practice driving with other Bookmobile drivers

Step 4: CMV Pre-Trip Inspection Test

Step 5: CMV Basic Vehicle Control Skills Test

Step 6: On-Road Driving Test

Step 7: CDL ACQUIRED!

I have been working on Steps 1 and 2 of my Bookmobile-Driver-To-Be To-Do List. When I received the guide, the Circulation Supervisor (and fellow Bookmobile Driver) had highlighted important sections and showed me what I needed to learn in order to be ready to take my tests. Thus commenced Step 1. For the past couple of weeks, I have been studying the Illinois CDL Study Guide. I have been scheduled for at least 2 hours of study time each day in order to learn all of the technical details of the various systems and parts of a commercial motor vehicle, all the laws that CMVs must obey, safety measures to take while on and off the road, etc. I’ve had writer’s cramps in my hand from penning page after page of notes.

The reading has been slow going. Partially because I am a very slow reader and partly because the material can be so technical. When I finally finished reading a section, I would answer the practice questions included in the guide and then review any areas that I felt weak in. After completing all the sections of required reading in the CDL Study Guide for a Class B license with the air brake endorsement, I started using other study methods to reinforce the knowledge that I had learned from the CDL Study Guide.

I used our library catalog to locate two books in our Test Prep collection for CDL test preparation. The book that I found the most helpful was CDL: Commercial Driver’s License Exam by Matt Mosher. It had practice tests for the Core Knowledge Test as well as tests for each CDL endorsement (including air brakes). Each test came with easily copyable fill-in-the-blank test sheets that I could use. In addition to an answer key, the book included a “Detailed Explanations of Answers” section after each test that helped you learn your weak points and why your answer was incorrect. After taking each practice test, the detailed explanations of answers sections really helped me.

In addition to the books in our catalog, I also went onto good old Google and searched for Illinois CDL practice tests. I found a handful of practice tests for both the Core Knowledge test as well as the Air Brake Test.

This morning, I went to the DMV and took my Commercial Learner’s Permit (CLP) Test and my Air Brake Endorsement Test. I waited in a line, got my photo taken, and took my tests. For each test, you can take it up to 3 times before you have to wait for several days before you can retake the tests. When I sat down at the testing computer, I had nervous butterflies in my stomach. Tapping through question after question with growing confidence, I realized I really was quite well prepared. Finally answering the last question, I instantly got my test score. I passed! I now have my CLP.

Starting next week, I will be moving on to the next phase of my Bookmobile Driver training: Driving Big B!