Past Times

Librarians brought books to the people

Wake County bookmobile librarians traveled hundreds of miles to serve the county’s readers.
Wake County bookmobile librarians traveled hundreds of miles to serve the county’s readers. Courtesy of the State Library of North Carolina

In 1949, The News & Observer’s librarian, Ac Ruble McGalliard, reported on outreach efforts by the local public library.

Not content to sit and wait for patrons to come to it, the library system here has gone out to its clientele through the relatively new bookmobile system.

The Wake County bookmobile librarians load up their machines with books for all ages and travel 572 miles each school month, and 637 in the summer months to bring good reading to the people of the county. They operate the bookmobile four days and stop once each month at each stop, making 97 direct stops to farm homes and stores, besides serving 18 county schools and four book stations.

During the past year the bookmobile lent 38,981 books and distributed 5,569 magazines. Besides this regular county service there are certain places in Raleigh which are served by the bookmobile: St. Luke’s Ladies Home, Vetville and Trailwood at State College, and the Halifax Housing Authority Library. There are also these institutional stops: Central Prison, Woman’s Prison Camp and the Wake County Home.

This story told by one of the bookmobile librarians recently seems to sum up how much the bookmobile means to people out in the county – as the bookmobile drove up before this farm house, a little girl came running out of the house, her pigtails flying, and said breathlessly to the librarian, “Daddy said to give him just three more minutes to finish his book, he just can’t give it back before he’s finished with it. It’s ‘Toby Tyler,’ and Daddy says it’s the best book he ever read!” The N&O Nov. 13, 1949

The bookmobile was a lifeline for residents in more rural parts of the state. In 1958, writer Karl Fleming described its importance in Western North Carolina.

When the horn sounded, a little gray-haired woman peeked from the door of a small clapboard house that hung on the side of a steep hill in this section of mountainous Madison County.

Then she emerged carrying a bulging pillow case, and descended the hill, gingerly lifting first one foot and then the other out of the mud. When she drew near she waved a bare hand in the cold, wintry air and smiled a greeting.

In the pillow case, it turned out, she was carrying 16 books, ranging from a Zane Grey western to a who-dunit called “The Case of the Terrified Typist.”

Her destination with the books: the Madison County bookmobile, one of 15 mobile libraries that ply 800,000 miles a year through the back reaches of 94 counties in North Carolina, delivering enlightenment and entertainment on wheels to the rural citizens of the state.…

Since its first jaunt into the craggy rear stretches of this county, the Madison County bookmobile, traveling three days a week, 12 months a year, has developed a clientele of 2,000 regular customers who are now withdrawing 2,000 books from their library on wheels.

Mrs. Peggy Dotterer of Hot Springs, a former school teacher, drives the bookmobile 1,000 miles a month over some of the roughest terrain in North Carolina.

Her stopping places are country stores, appointed private homes and rural churches.

Her “customers” are mainly rural housewives and children, some of whom walk a distance of two miles to meet the bookmobile, their homes being inaccessible to vehicles.

Her books are, in the main, entertaining rather than educational. The bulk of them run from westerns and light romances to religious works.

But Mrs. Dotterer, a literary missionary who beats the hills in dungarees and high-topped men’s work shoes, enthusiastically asserts the quality is rapidly improving. Sinclair Lewis is now fairly popular. Church weddings are not uncommon in the rural mountains anymore, so books on etiquette have found wide use.

At least one woman in Mrs. Dotterer’s domain has learned to read by withdrawing children’s books from the mobile unit and having her son, a grammar school student, instruct her.…

North Carolina has more bookmobiles than any State in the nation….

Mrs. Elizabeth Hughey of Raleigh, State librarian, hails the growth of bookmobile service as “a most effective means of providing people with books and information they otherwise could not get.” The N&O Jan. 12, 1958

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

  Comments