Friday, October 05, 2007

Words on wheels

I adore the idea of bookmobiles -- always have -- and yet, like most hardcore readers I've never actually used one. Growing up I used to see a bookmobile in my rural neck of the woods all the time, but I can only recall setting foot in it once; it was just easier for me to walk to the library after being freed from the Gulag Schoolpelago for the day. It would be sad to see them go.
Bookmobiles became popular in the 1950s, when they carried books to city neighborhoods and remote villages, said Thomas Moroney of Worcester, who owns one of the four companies that make bookmobiles in the United States. Back then, Moroney Monolite Bookmobiles built a new bookmobile every eight weeks.

"Way back in the glory days they were ordering four at a time," recalled Moroney, whose company built the Beverly bookmobile 20 years ago.

But by the 1980s, the popularity of bookmobiles began to fade. Specialists who study bookmobiles differ in their explanations. Some blame skyrocketing gas prices. Others say bookmobiles became irrelevant in communities where residents can get easy access to other resources, such as the Internet.

"I sold bookmobiles for 15 years, and I would come across people who said 'bookmobiles are dinosaurs' and 'bookmobiles are fading,' " said Tina Wilson, a branch manager at Cleveland Public Library.

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