Many children of the 20th century remember the traveling libraries known as bookmobiles.
The 1953 photo accompanying this article shows children visiting a Chattanooga Public Library bookmobile near the then-new Boone-Hysinger Homes public housing complex in East Chattanooga.
The photograph was taken at the intersection of Hardy Street and Roanoke Avenue by Chattanooga News-Free Press photographer Bob Sherrill. The children in this photo would be in their mid- to late-70s today.
In 1953, the Boone-Hysinger Homes were mainly populated by working class whites. Over time, the complex gradually became majority Black. The complex was an East Chattanooga landmark for almost 60 years.
The name was later changed to the Harriet Tubman Homes. The property was purchased by the city in the 2010s and has been converted into an economic development site called East Chattanooga Rising. Some of the property is being developed into the $61 million Nippon Paint USA automotive paint factory, according to previous news reports.
According to the caption with this photo, the bookmobile made 25 stops a week and served 8,000 registered borrowers in 1953.
"These 8,000 persons read 118,462 books in 1952," the newspaper reported. "There are 8,800 books in the bookmobile reservoir, and the vehicle carries 2,000 of them at the time."
Mentions of the bookmobile peaked in Chattanooga's newspapers in the 1960s. Into at least the 1970s, the bookmobile serviced then-suburban areas such as Brainerd and Hixson before public library branches became widespread.
A 2020 obituary of former Chattanooga Library Director Nelly Arnold noted that in 1967, half of the library's circulation was through bookmobile loans.
A Maryland librarian, Mary Lemist Titcomb, is credited with establishing America's first bookmobile in Washington County, Maryland, in 1904. At the time it was a horse-drawn wagon capable of displaying 200 books, with more in storage.
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