To celebrate Library Workers Day on April 9th, we are featuring the Bookmobile: A Historic Perspective Oral History Project. Interviewees include bookmobile librarians and key stakeholders in establishing the statewide bookmobile service.

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Brief History of the Kentucky Bookmobile Book Project

Kentucky's statewide bookmobile service began in 1953 as a partnership between the state and community groups such as the Citizens' March for Books. A statewide book drive held in the latter part of 1953 helped to establish the first bookmobile collections in Kentucky. The program was initially called the Kentucky Bookmobile Project and expanded its reach to all 120 Kentucky counties primarily through local schools and libraries pledging to cover the operating costs of a bookmobile.

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Image courtesy of KHS Ronald Morgan Graphic 5 Postcard Collection.

 Mary Bingham, a prominent Louisville philanthropist who played an integral role in establishing the Kentucky Bookmobile Project, says that bookmobiles were created as a way to improve access to library services in rural counties:

" . . . The situation in Kentucky, as far as books are concerned. And that was that I think 60% of the total, Kentuckians had no access to library service whatever. And in the rural counties, the figure increased to 80%."

Listen to Mary Bingham's Interview

Bookmobile Maintenance

Working as a bookmobile librarian was not easy. Bookmobile librarians faced challenges such as having to pay out of pocket for the maintenance on their bookmobiles. Joyce Adams, a bookmobile librarian based in Livingston County, often relied on the help of her family to keep the bookmobile running:

"Well, I have a son that's twelve that gets to help. I have a husband that changes the oil and donates the oil for right now . . .  And when you wash the bookmobile it's gonna take you a half a day . . . and that's another Saturday gone or Sunday afternoon. And the inside maintenance, you have to clean it every day . . . And then you have your weekly trash to take off."

Listen to Joyce's Interview

Bond Between Bookmobile Librarians and Patrons

Despite the challenges associated with their profession, bookmobile librarians are proud of their duties in performing a vital community service to rural and urban areas alike. Hopkins County bookmobile librarian Sandra Dickinson describes the unique bond that she shares with her patrons:

" . . . But you just become one of them cause you know what kind of books they read. So, you have know--kind of the personal side of them. It's not like the library where you go in there and just check out your books with your card and go on back to your business. You check out their book, you just become part of--part of the community, part of their family. And you're invited to graduations and your family enlarges a whole lot."

Listen To Sandra's Interview

Childcare and Compensation

Most bookmobile librarians were women, and many had to navigate finding childcare as working mothers. Jewell Thomas, a bookmobile librarian in eastern Kentucky, had to find an unconventional solution to care for her daughter when her salary was not enough to pay for a babysitter:

"When I started driving, my daughter was five. And as I say, well, I've got $72 a month. I could not hire or book anybody to take care of my daughter and make enough money to pay me. So I asked the library board, is it permissible to take Patricia with me, and they told me that I could . . . But I would take a long banana box and you've seen those long pasteboard boxes and set it down underneath the heater. And at 5:00, she was still sleeping there. And so, I took a quilt and put in that box to some pillows underneath the quilt. And I would wrap her up when it got cold so she can get her nap."

Listen to Jewell's Interview