The GPL Bookmobiles Through the Years

By David Nilsen

I’ve been fascinated by bookmobiles for a long time, and many times I’ve looked nostalgically at pictures of the old Greenville Public Library bookmobiles, wishing they were still visiting area schools. Sadly, the days of these lumbering buses full of books traveling our town and county roads are in the past, having made way for more efficient and economical extension services options from GPL.

There is very little information available about the first three bookmobiles GPL owned. The Greenville High School Chief yearbook from 1948, on a page dedicated to GPL (Carnegie Library at the time), tells us the following about the first of these machines:

“In 1945 plans were made for a county bookmobile. In December, 1947, a traveling library that could carry approximately 2,000 books was presented by the American Aggregates Corporation. Every three weeks this bookmobile visits schools in the county.”

1947-bookmobile

bookmobile-1940sThough no details exist for this first bookmobile, I believe it was a 1939 Mack, built on their school bus frame.

1947-48-bookmobile

The bookmobile was very popular with area school children, as it represented for many of them their only connection to the Greenville library and a world of books.

bookmobile-1949-black-and-white

bookmobile-1949-black-and-white-2

bookmobile-1949-black-and-white-3

I don’t have information on who drove this first bookmobile, but in these two pictures below, librarian Kathleen Moore is standing with the vehicle. Miss Moore went on the serve as the library director from 1952-1962.

bookmobile-librarian-1949-black-and-white

bookmobile-librarian-1949-black-and-white-2

The next GPL bookmobile was a 1950s Peterbilt, though I’ve been unable to confirm either the exact model year or the year it was purchased by the library. The pictures below were taken in August 1972.

bookmobile-old-color

bookmobile-2nd-color-front

bookmobile-2nd-color-rear

Many Greenville residents on Facebook remember this particular bookmobile, and have commented on how much they enjoyed its visits to their schools.

1971-august-bookmobile-bookshelves-4

In the late 1970s or very early 1980s, GPL purchased a bookmobile based on a 1970s Winnebago Chieftain motorhome. The bookmobile is shown here with driver Leona Sheets in 1981.

bookmobile-leona-sheets-fall-1981

The bookmobile is shown here getting a wash from a group of teenagers in the 1980s.

bookmobile-cleaning-1980s

bookmobile-cleaning-1980s-5

bookmobile-cleaning-1980s-2

bookmobile-cleaning-1980s-3

bookmobile-cleaning-1980s-4

This third bookmobile appears to have been an interim solution, as the library began shopping for a new permanent bookmobile in 1983. The process lasted seven years, and the fourth (and final) GPL bookmobile, a Blue Bird Concept 2000 from Ohio Bus Sales, was delivered to the library in July 1990. A few library board members (including Ted Finnard, center) were able to pose for a picture with the machine before it received its GPL branding in this photo from spring of that year:

1980s-bookmobile

The library took delivery of the completed bookmobile in July, and this photo with head librarian Serena Uible, bookmobile driver Joyce Turner, and board member Ted Finnarn receiving the keys was taken on July 30.

1990-july-30-serena-uible-head-joyce-turner-bookmobile-tenn-finnard-board

This bookmobile served the library for many years before being retired in 2007. This is the bookmobile I have many memories of stepping into when I was in elementary school.

1990-bookmobile

1994-july-4-bookmobile-ansonia-parade

This final bookmobile was retired in 2007 when the library decided to go another direction with its outreach to schools and nursing homes. We’ve seen the last of the bookmobiles in our town, though many libraries do still have them.

If you have any comments or memories to share about any of these bookmobiles, feel free to comment on this post or on social media, or email me at david (at) greenville-publiclibrary dot org. If any of your information contradicts what I have here, and I’m able to verify it, I will update the article to reflect the new information.

If you want to learn more about the history of bookmobiles in the United States, check out Orty Ortwein’s Bookmobiles in America: An Illustrated HistoryWe have a copy at the library, we just don’t have a bookmobile in which to deliver it to you.

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