Submitted by countylibrary on

Burlington County Library has always been on the move! From its first day of operation, the library’s primary mission has been to serve the people. But right from the start, getting books into the hands of readers scattered throughout the largest county in New Jersey posed a challenge. The solution, it seemed, was obvious - and it had four wheels. If the residents couldn’t visit the library, the library would visit the residents!

The first BCLS bookmobile made its debut in 1921 when the library opened its doors to the public. Designed by State Librarian Sarah Askew, the early “book truck” was a Ford car with a truck chassis that looked a bit like an ambulance. Driven by the county librarian who weaved her way along the open roads, the vehicle was specially outfitted with sides that swung open vertically to expose rows of neatly stacked books. It could carry 500 volumes at a time and it announced its arrival at each stop with the familiar “clang, clang” of its bell. This primitive “traveling library” was an especially welcome visitor in the county’s rural areas where residents had little or no access to a generous assortment of books.

In 1928, a new book truck with a new design hit the road. This vehicle featured side panels that opened horizontally instead of vertically. They were practical improvements. When the truck made its stops, the upper door acted as a canopy that offered some protection from the elements while the lower door served as a handy shelf. It was greeted with enthusiasm by residents eager to browse the library’s revolving collection of titles and make their selections on the side of the road. These early vehicles and their successors, introduced in 1936 and again in 1951, also served double duty, delivering books and other material to stops that included library stations, schools and remote farms.

Over the years, Burlington County’s population exploded and the increase in library customers was in turn reflected in the size of the modern bookmobiles that traversed the local roads. In 1960, library officials decided to invest in a large, van-type vehicle that began traveling to each stop on a set schedule. Considered top of the line at the time, the Gertsenslager was the library’s first “walk-on” bookmobile, enabling customers to climb aboard to make their selections from inside the vehicle. This first direct bookmobile service traveled to 11 member libraries, 103 schools and 17 stations in a dozen towns. The new vehicle and service was so successful that in 1963, a second bookmobile, this time an International, was purchased to expand the coverage. Together, the two vehicles made 82 scheduled stops throughout the county, bringing library resources directly to the people. The once-vital community library stations disappeared.

In 1976, officials introduced a new bookmobile dubbed “The Book Ranger” that toured the county with not only books, but also framed prints, records and cassettes. "Book Ranger II" was added in 1980. More than a decade later, the library entered into a new era of bookmobile service when these two well-loved, but aging vehicles were replaced with a modern bookmobile purchased from the Ohio Bus company. This more sophisticated Bluebird bus hit the road in 1991 and was the library’s first diesel-powered bookmobile. Capable of carrying a larger onboard collection, it enabled the service to expand to include VHS tapes and music CDs.

The library took another leap forward in 2003 when it purchased a new Freightliner bus to replace the Bluebird. This spacious vehicle offering “info to go” was the first bookmobile equipped with laptops with a real time internet connection to the library for checking material in and out. Customers could also ask research questions and request holds to be placed on the spot. The library proudly showcased this bookmobile at the annual Burlington County Farm Fair for years.

Technology brought more changes in 2018 when it was time to modernize once again. Fittingly, our newest vehicle, a sprinter van, rolled into service on April 11 of that year in honor of National Bookmobile Day. Smartly branded with the BCLS logo, the state-of-the art vehicle has been renamed the “mobile library” to better reflect today’s service to the communities. Smaller and more agile than its recent predecessors, it’s designed to make frequent community stops as it darts around the county each week. Mobile carts filled with books and other materials are also customized to serve residents at each location, replacing the collection that lined the previous vehicle’s interior walls. The mobile library visits senior communities, long-term care facilities, schools and residential spots throughout the county.

Want to check out the sleek, modern mobile library that enables us to continue bringing books and other resources to eager readers all over the Burlington County 100 years since our first humble book truck hit the road? A regular Burlington County Library System card is all that’s needed to use our service. Don’t have a card? Why not register for one when visiting the BCLS Mobile Library or any of our branch or member locations, or apply online.