Lost Treasure of the Day: Edmonton's Streetcar Bookmobile

How good things once were!

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Edmonton Public Library

It was once common (and in some places, still is) for libraries in the U.S. to have mobile satellite locations known affectionately as "bookmobiles." Drawn by horses and later by tractor-trailers, these literary outposts could be found in a different neighborhood each day, helping libraries stay relevant in the expanding American cities of the early 20th century.

Hagerstown, Maryland, may have pioneered the bookmobile in North America around the turn of the century, but it was Edmonton, Canada, which perfected it.

In 1941, by which point there were several dozen bookmobiles operating in the U.S., the Canadian prairie town introduced a traveling library of its own, located inside a converted streetcar. It was the classiest bookmobile the world ever saw, as this 1942 video makes clear:

Later, Edmonton moved to more traditional mobile libraries, including trucks and a couple trailers.

The last Edmonton bookmobile was taken out of service in 1991 due to budget cuts.

HT: Urban Photo Blog.

About the Author

  • Henry Grabar is a freelance writer and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.