Friday, January 16, 2009

The Bookmobile

Have you ever lived in an area where a bookmobile came around? I don’t know how popular those things are now, but they used to travel rural areas or to places that didn’t have easy access to libraries. Although it’s hard to believe nowadays, those bookmobiles were greeted like ice cream trucks. The books inside the bookmobiles brought travel to different lands and escape into other lives, with no calories. But you don’t hear about them much anymore.

At least not in the U.S. You do hear about them elsewhere.

In Ethiopia, there’s one that is hugely popular. It’s not a traveling bus filled with rows of books, though. It’s a cart on wheels pulled by two donkeys. When it comes into town, children run to it. The “librarian” lets the donkeys rest in the shade, parks the brightly painted wooden cart, lowers the sides to reveal the shelves of books, and the kids choose a book and sit in the shade to read.

In the homes of these children, there are rarely books. There’s not many at school either. The children look forward to greeting the donkeys and filling their minds with the words in the books.

When it’s mid-afternoon and time for the traveling bookshelves to move to the next destination, the children help put the books and the stools they have been sitting on back into the cart and harness the donkeys. The books are not the only teaching tool of the mobile library. The donkeys are as well. In Ethiopia, donkeys are generally despised and ill-treated. By using the donkeys to pull this precious cargo, the project tries to teach children to respect animals, even the lowly donkey.

The children are leaning many things through this Ethiopian Books for Children and Educational Foundation (EBCEF) project.
The staff say the children have made great strides in their learning and in their behaviour since getting regular access to books.

Most are from poor families; for them, even the modestly priced picture books published by EBCEF cost something like two days' wages.
Mezrasha Kibret, EBCEF’s project manager in this area, believes books are the key to everything.
"If we are interested in changing the world," he says, "then we have to read."
If you’d like to read the full story of this project, check out the article in the BBC News.


  1. I've never lived anywhere that is serviced by a bookmobile. The last place we lived was not very big and only had one library. When a new library was built and the books were being moved from one building to the other, they brought in a bookmobile for a week so people would still have a library. That's my one and only time being in a bookmobile.

  2. For places that can't support a library or for people in outlying areas without access to books, a bookmobile is a wonderful idea and experience. For these kids in Ethiopia, it's mind-opening.

  3. That's wonderful they still exist somewhere! I do remember the Bookmobile when I was a child, though. It traveled through our neighborhood twice a month.

    L. Diane Wolfe

  4. We had a bookmobile, but we had to drive to it, believe it or not. I remember one summer when I must have checked out 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS every other week. I loved that book!

  5. What different experiences we've had with bookmobiles, even here in the states. One doesn't remember them at all, one remembers them coming twice a month, and one had to drive to the bookmobile.

    The driving to the bookmobile is at first rather funny, but I can see that a rural bookmobile might only go to a central location then the residents would meet them there.

  6. Our local library still has one, although they are downsizing it. I do remember them from my childhood--they seemed immense back then. Now, my only sense is that they are so tiny...

  7. I'm in a northwest suburb of Chicago. We do have a bookmobile, but I never use it since we're not that far from the library which has a larger selection.

    Morgan Mandel

  8. John & Morgan - Thanks so much for telling us about your local bookmobiles. I am surprised by the number of people here and on Twitter who have said their community still has them. That's wonderful.

  9. I remember them in the 60's in Northern Michigan in (then then small rural town of) Traverse City where I grew up. I don't know if they still have them there - the town has grown into a full blown cosmopolitan city now.

  10. I know what you mean about small towns turning big. The town we live in now was a bump on the highway to the lake just a couple of years ago. Now we're huge. Every night when I go out to get the mail, I look out toward the city and it's lit up as bright and huge as Disneyland.


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