Long Overdue, the Bookmobile Is Back

Even in the age of the Kindle and the Nook, the library on wheels can still attract an audience

By the mid-20th century bookmobiles had become a part of American life, with more than 2,000 plying our inner cities and rural roadways. (Bettmann / Corbis)

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For Daniel Handler, who has written more than a dozen books for children, that “library experience” translates to a real-world adventure: a process of exploration and discovery that an e-reader can’t provide.

“In the digital world,” Handler observes, “searching is easy—and browsing is hard. The Internet can help you find what you're looking for, but a library finds you things you didn't even know you wanted. The bookmobile thus is a portable, wandering marvel, that searches you out in a world that more and more waits for you to search instead.”

“They’re traveling cathedrals of beauty and truth and peace,” Anne Lamott adds reverently. “A place where children can have access to all the great wisdom of the ages – from the deepest and most profound truths to the greatest belly-laughs.”

In late 2011, Tom Corwin hopes, his bookmobile will hit the road with a library of 3,000 old-fashioned books—along with a few donated e-book readers. Each technology has its pros and cons, and each must be a part of any conversation about literacy and learning. With any luck, Corwin’s beautifully restored Moroney 240-B will offer the best of both worlds.

Jeff Greenwald is the author of The Size of the World and Snake Lake.


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