Happy National Bookmobile Day!

Happy National Bookmobile Day by Mind on Fire Books
Happy National Bookmobile Day by Mind on Fire Books

Celebrate National Bookmobile Day! Every day, bookmobiles help transform the communities they serve, providing everything from access to books, magazines and videos to job search assistance and much more.

For book lovers, bookmobiles are oddly romantic. They seem like dream-machines, very real automobiles rolling through our lives in an almost impossible fashion.

A Brief History of the Bookmobile

The bookmobile or mobile library is a vehicle designed for use as a library. They have been known by many names throughout history including traveling library, library wagon, book wagon, book truck, library-on-wheels, and book
auto service. Bookmobiles expand the reach of traditional libraries by transporting books to potential readers, providing library services to people in otherwise-underserved locations (such as remote areas) and/or circumstances (such as residents of retirement homes). Bookmobile services and materials (such as Internet access, large print books, and audiobooks), may be customized for the locations and populations served. Bookmobiles have been based on various means of conveyance, including bicycles, carts, motor vehicles, trains, watercraft, and wagons, as well as camels, donkeys, elephants, horses, and mules.

(If you are enjoying this article, perhaps you would like “How Reading Makes us Better People”)

The first American bookmobile was actually a wagon. Mary Titcomb, a Maryland librarian, recognized that having books was only one part of the library’s job: the other part was making the books accessible. The Washington County Library Wagon took books around the county, making scheduled stops in addition to impromptu dispersals.

Happy National Bookmobile Day by Mind on Fire Books
Happy National Bookmobile Day by Mind on Fire Books

The idea of bringing books to patrons caught on in the U.S.,  spurred by a widely distributed population and the desire for civic improvement. The Everett County Public Library has what is believed to be the oldest operating bookmobile, manufactured in 1924, and since fully restored.

As libraries have become the community’s digital gathering place, bookmobiles have also been transformed into movable internet hubs. El Paso County’s bookmobile was one of the early examples of this shift, with onboard workstations and satellite internet service.

Today our nation celebrates National Bookmobile Day. For more than 100 years, bookmobiles have delivered information, technology and resources for life-long learning to Americans of all walks of life. Each year, it is celebrated on the Wednesday of National Library Week. Which is your favorite?

Sweden’s Floating Boat Library

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Sweden and its Nordic neighbors have some of the highest literacy rates in the world. The Swedes view equal access to education and knowledge as a critical component to an individual’s future success. This is true regardless of economic background and, apparently, geographic location.

Sweden has a floating library — the bokbåten — that brings thousands of books to people on dozens of remote islands in the Stockholm archipelago twice a year. Every spring and fall since 1953, the Stockholm Library Service rents a boat for a week, loads it full of books, and charts a course for about 23 inhabited islands. (Norway has one, too, called the Epos.)

When the boat docks, residents climb aboard to return books they borrowed during the last visit and check out the library’s newest offerings. The boat carries about 3,000 books, and residents can put in requests ahead of time. The three or four volunteer librarians who take turns working on the ship say that, as you might expect, the latest best-sellers are in high demand.

In 2018, a woman named Maria Anderhagen took over managing the bokbaten — in part because she had the largest basement in town and could store all the books in between voyages.

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Here’s what the inside of the boat looks like, courtesy of Literary Hub, which got a tour:

There are tall wooden shelves, large tables displaying sturdy hardcovers, book carts on wheels, a long checkout table, even event notices taped against the wall. There are picture books for children, popular thrillers, large-print books, texts about history and science and knitting, cookbooks, and audiobooks. Since island residents can order copies in advance, boxes of books are stacked around the boat waiting to be delivered.

Culture of learning with an uncertain future

In addition to a library boat, Sweden also has library buses that bring books to people in rural communities. They also develop impromptu libraries in places such as stores and social gathering spots. The boat started as a service for fisherman and island workers but expanded to serve residents who prefer to read hard copies of books over e-books or audio books.

According to this 2010 study published in the Journal Resource Sharing & Information Networks:

The book boat is of great positive value for children and adults because they can in this way take part in the modern public library. The book boat has an important function as extraordinarily good public relations for the library’s services and has the effect of promoting reading not only in the archipelago but elsewhere.

Even in a nation of book lovers, the future of the floating library remains uncertain. Anderhagen told Literary Hub that if the Regional Library cuts funding for the boat, the bokbaten will be no more. Such was the case recently in Finland. To mark its centennial, the nation gave itself a brand new library with a price tag of about $11 million. However, in the process, it cut funding for a library boat that had been in service for 30 years.

Hopefully, Sweden’s bokbaten will continue to operate as a wonderful nod to past traditions while educating people for the future.

Originally published at: https://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/stories/swedens-bokbaten-floating-library

Written by Angela Nelson: https://www.mnn.com/users/anelson