Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book wagons and crazy Socialists


The Machinists' Monthly Journal for July, 1904 wrote:"These crazy Socialists in Wisconsin are going too far. A book wagon, the first public library on wheels to be sent out in the United States, is contemplated in a plan just completed by the Wisconsin Free Library Commission. It will invade the State next October. As the wagon passes through the counties the farmers will be invited to select their winter's reading. There will be books for the old and young, and each family will be allowed to make as large a selection as is desired. The following Spring the wagon will make another trip through the same territory to gather up the books and return them to the central library." The proposed book wagon was the idea of Lutie Stearns, and as far as I can determine it was never implemented. Stearns first discussed the concept of a book wagon at the American Library Association conference at Niagra Falls in 1903. The idea was more fully explained in a letter reprinted in the July, 1904 issue of Public Libraries (p. 331). Stearns a major supporter of rotating or traveling libraries felt book wagons could provide more current material. The first book wagon to actually go forth in the United States was from the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Maryland in April, 1905. Whether Mary Titcomb, the Librarian in Hagerstown in 1905, got her inspiration from Lutie Stearns is unknown. The first Hagerstown book wagon was destroyed in 1910 while crossing a railroad track. It was hit by a freight train leaving only fragments of the wagon. The image of Lutie Stearns is from the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Historical Image Collection, Image ID: 29372.

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