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Venerable Bookmobile Is Reaching End of the Road

October 15, 1987|DAVID LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

It began with what amounted to a truck, and it is about to go the way of a truck--the old Helms Bakery ones.

The venerable bookmobile within 10 years, predicts Los Angeles County Public Librarian Linda F. Crismond, will be a thing of the past.

"Increasingly taking its place is books by mail," she said. "This started about 10 years ago, but it is accelerating rapidly."

The way this works is that a catalogue of books is mailed to homes in targeted ZIP codes, generally in geographically isolated areas. Requested books are also being sent out in vinyl mail pouches (at book rate postage) due back within a month.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 21, 1987 Home Edition View Part 5 Page 3 Column 2 View Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
A photograph accompanying an article Thursday about the Los Angeles County Library's bookmobile project incorrectly showed a Los Angeles City Library bookmobile. The city library's bookmobile project continues to thrive.

Postage on the return, incidentally, is prepaid, inasmuch as under the state Education Code, every citizen shall have access to a free public library.

Dates Back to 1905

At present the Los Angeles County Public Library has six bookmobiles, each of which carries roughly 2,500 books, 50 periodicals and some audio recordings. Each stops at given locations once a week, and a customer may check out anything on board, or take delivery of something he or she had requested the previous week.

The system dates back to April, 1905, when the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Md., used a horse-drawn wagon, with the janitor at the reins, to travel through the county three times a week.

The wagon had shelves on the outside, so that the books were visible. Prior to its new use, the wagon had been used for gathering eggs, butter and produce.

Popular in the Boondocks

Over the years the "book automobiles," as they quickly were tagged, became particularly popular in remote rural areas not near any library buildings.

Modern versions resemble motor homes. In Massachusetts, one is devoted entirely to distributing reading material in large print.

Why then the reason for their possible days-are-numbered status in Los Angeles?

"The cost of gasoline and our concern about traffic congestion," the county librarian replied.

Something they didn't worry about in 1905.

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