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This month we’ll see the publication of the children’s nonfiction book “Library on Wheels: Mary Lemist Titcomb and America’s First Bookmobile” by Sharlee Glenn.
Kirkus has already called the book “an ennobling portrait of a pioneer who took the library out of its walls and to the public.”
It all got me to thinking about Evanston Public Library and its role in the world of bookmobiles. You see, here in Evanston, we were the first.
Saying that you were the first to do anything is always a risky proposition. As a general rule it’s tricky to prove when you’re the first at much of anything. But Evanston Public Library really did have the first city bookmobile. Yup. No question about it.
Now granted, it wasn’t the first bookmobile ever. Lots of bookmobiles had been created with the intention of bringing literature to the more rural communities out there.
It was the idea of having a bookmobile for city rather than country residents that was innovative at the time. After all, why would a city need a bookmobile when it had a public library?
Never mind that travel back then was a tricky proposition, or that the hours the library was open might not coincide with the hours of your average everyday working American.
The website Bookmobiles: A History provides us with some interesting information on the topic. Initially in Evanston a Chevy-turned-bookmobile was dubbed the “Book Auto,” but that rudimentary moniker was soon changed to “The Pied Piper.” With its ice cream truck-like looks and little horn that it would blow every two blocks, it wasn’t the craziest of names.
Former driver Charles Ferran wrote of the Piper at the time, “‘Honk! Honk! Honk!’ goes an automobile horn on the corner… The children understand it and come flocking from all over the neighborhood crying, ‘Libraree! Libraree!’ ”
This bookmobile may yet have another distinction to set it apart from the pack. There is a strong possibility (though confirming this is difficult) that it was also the first bookmobile where the librarians read stories to the children.
Not that it didn’t contain a fair number of adult titles as well. Indeed, along its route the bookmobile would make a point to stop by the Clayton Mark Manufacturing company. Located at 1900 Dempster St., the company was Evanston’s largest employer in the early 20th century.
Many of its workers were immigrants, and so Librarian Ida F. Wright loaded The Pied Piper with books in German, Italian, Polish, Swedish and Norwegian.
Today Evanston has no bookmobile, but we do have a book bike that goes out to a variety of different locations. Wheels are wheels, books are books, and access is important, no matter what century you live in.