ABOVE: The Orlando Public Library Traveling Branch and County Bookmobile in front of the 1966 Orlando Public Library.
A Bookmobile for the Library
A proposal for the addition of a bookmobile was presented to the board of the Albertson Public Library by the Orange County Chamber of Commerce in early 1949 to address the needs of residents who were not able to easily visit the library in downtown Orlando.
The ladies of the Orlando Sorosis Club decided that a Bookmobile that would take books to people in the small communities of Orange County was a worthy venture, and that no single service would benefit the entire community to a greater extent. Under the coordination of Ruth Gilbert Smith, Sorosis members were divided into twenty teams to raise $6,000 needed to purchase a school bus and convert it into a traveling library. John Fleming penned a humorous editorial about the proposed bookmobile and how the Sorosis ladies would secure the funds in his “Not Quite News” column.
Left to Right: Fred Atherton – driver, Ruth Gilbert Smith – coordinated Sorosis fund raising drive to buy the bookmobile, Mary Lib Steffins – first Bookmobile librarian, and Clara Wendel – Library Director.
The Bookmobile was an orange, all-steel custom-built school bus body from the Wayne Bus Company of Indiana, mounted on a Studebaker chassis. The interior of the Bookmobile was built in Jacksonville by the Rivers Body Factory, from specifications furnished by the Sorosis Club and the Albertson Public Library.
Once the bookmobile was purchased through the efforts of Sorosis, the newly formed Friends of the Library, sponsored a local bill in the State Legislature in 1949 to enable the county commission to appropriate money to operate the bookmobile, and Sorosis members helped to secure its passage.
The president of the Friends of the Library of Orlando, Ruth McCullough Maguire, published the “Notice of Intent to introduce local act” in the Orlando newspaper on the 20th day of April, 1949.
With the passage of the bill, the Orange County Commissioners appropriated $10,000 for the staffing, books, and upkeep of the vehicle.
Excerpts from a front page story in the Winter Garden Times circa October 1949:
Bookmobile To Be Ready About November 15 – Free Library Books Available in Winter Garden
The Orange County Bookmobile, which will provide free library books to the citizens of Orange County as an extension of library service from the Albertson Public Library in Orlando, will go into service in the county on or about November 15, Mrs. A. H. Smith Jr., of Orlando, chairman of the Sorosis Club’s Bookmobile project, announced yesterday….
The Bookmobile, with a capacity of over 2,000 volumes, will be presented to the Public Library by the Sorosis Club of Orlando…. The Bookmobile will follow a regular schedule which will take it to certain designated stops every day of the week. Citizens will have library cards and may draw books from the bookmobile stock just as residents of Orlando make use of the facilities of the city library. The book stock on the Bookmobile [will include] late books of fiction and general interest, reference books, historical books and children’s books.
The Orange County Commissioners included $10,000 in the 1949-1950 budget for the maintenance of the Bookmobile, being convinced that the value of this service to the citizens of the county would far exceed this sum. Maintenance will include salary of the Bookmobile staff librarian, the driver, the books with which it is stocked and the replacements, gas and oil and repairs and other items.
Photo of bookmobile wrapped up with note: To You, Merry Christmas, From Your Public Library.
Bookmobile service began on December 1, 1949, making Orange County the first in Florida to provide county-wide library service to its residents. Stops and stations were established at population centers throughout Orange County, and the stops with the highest circulations eventually became prime considerations for full-fledged branches as the country-wide system developed.
Schedules from the 1950s through the 1970s show that the bookmobile made an impressive number of stops each week. The schedule for September 1958 through May 1959 show stops in Lockhart, Clarcona, Pinecastle, Taft, Ocoee, Tildenville, Union Park, Christmas, Bithlo, Union Park, Gotha, Orlo Vista, Windermere, Lake Barton, Riverside Acres, Magnolia Estates, Rock Springs, Apopka, Azalea Park, Pine Hills, and more! (Peruse additional schedules under Documents, below.) This 1965 list of bookmobile stops in alphabetical order (by stop location; not necessarily by city) was used by staff.
In May 1961, the library added a new $20,000 Gerstenslager bookmobile with an interior length of 27 feet and space for 3500 books! The Orange County Commission paid almost $12,000 of the purchase cost with the rest coming from a bookmobile fund drive.
The 1960-1961 Annual Report described the arrival: “Our greatest excitement was the arrival of our completely new, air-conditioned Bookmobile, which was dedicated on May 22nd and started its regular service on June 5th.”
In a library newsletter the popularity of the new bookmobile was extolled: “The new roominess, coolness and modern efficiency appeals to everyone and circulation has increased impressively. In the past year, it has traveled 8,507 miles to serve you in Orange County. It makes 47 bi-weekly stops.”
Story time at Peach Lake circa 1975.
Books were not all the bookmobile staff brought to the children in Orange County.
On some of the bi-monthly visits they were treated to a special Story Time either inside the bookmobile or outside in the warm Florida sun. Some of the bookmobile librarians and storytellers were Eileen B. Willis, Betty Brady, Del Jupiter, and Patricia Kremkau.
Bookmobile storyteller Patricia Kremkau circa 1976.
By 1963, the 1949 bookmobile was no longer roadworthy, but neither was it completely ready to retire. Instead it was set up in Washington Shores as a Library Station. This lasted until August 1965, when the Washington Shores Station was moved to new quarters in the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist at 1000 Bethune Drive.
1949 Bookmobile – Washington Shores Library Station circa 1963
The Traveling Branch, an anonymous gift from a member of the Friends of the Library, served residents within the city limits for many years. The 1957 Annual Report said it was the most important single new service added during 1956, making eight weekly stops in neighborhoods around the city.
According to a schedule from 1957-1958 the Traveling Branch was on the road Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., staffed by Mrs. Towle and Mrs. Brockman with assistance from Mrs. Drake and Dick Willis. Some of the stops were in the parking lots of grocery stores, gas stations, and women’s clubs, with some becoming physical branch library locations.
By 1961, the Traveling Branch made 16 stops each week. In addition, the library’s special Shut-In Service was supplied by the Traveling Branch with deliveries directly to the homes of residents who were not able to come to the library. Traveling Branch service in Orlando was discontinued in October 1966.
In March 1969, the Traveling Branch was repurposed to provide bookmobile service to Osceola County. In 1973, it was still serving outlying communities of Intercession City, Narcoosee, and Pine Grove, as well as the minimum-security Road Prison, retirement communities, nursing homes and the children’s home.
Bookmobile Service for Orange, Osceola and Seminole Counties
During the 1970s, the Orange County Library System provided library service to residents of Osceola and Seminole Counties. In addition to providing service at the brick-and-mortar libraries in the two counties, they also provided bookmobile service. Bookmobile Schedules from 1972-1979, show the years that service was provided and the places the bookmobile stopped.
View Bookmobile Schedules from 1972-1979.
Bookmobile Service Discontinued
In December 1973, the Books by Mail service began delivering library materials directly to the mailboxes of library customers, diminishing the need for the bookmobile.
By May of 1979, with the addition of branches at former bookmobile stops and the increased popularity of the Books by Mail program, the bookmobile service was discontinued.
Read the Winter-Spring 1979 Bookmobile Schedule
Peruse the photos and articles below under Images and Documents.
1949 Postcard from the Friends of the Library president possibly sent to both Sorosis and Friends members motivating them to write their representatives in Tallahassee to approve local bill to permit Orange County Commissioners to use funds for bookmobile operating expenses.
1957-1958 Traveling Branch Schedule, with humorous comment about the illustration, lists all the stops in November 1957 and September 1958.
Gerstenlager Bookmobile Brochure - 2nd bookmobile purchased in 1961 for $20,000.
Information on the history of the Bookmobile and shut in service provided by the Albertson Public Library / Orlando Public Library. The original bookmobile was set up in Washington Shores as a Library Station when it was no longer road worthy.
Bookmobile schedule Sept. 1956 to May 1957
Bookmobile schedule Sept. 1958 to May 1959
Bookmobile schedule Sept. 1959 to June 1960
Letter of praise for the bookmobile that made regular stops in Goldenrod.
Summer stops for the Bookmobile and the Traveling Branch for June 1960.
1965 Bookmobile stops in alphabetical order
Circa 1969, the Bookmobile and Traveling Branch and staff in front of the 1966 Orlando Public Library.
Bookmobile Schedule Nov. 1971-Feb. 1972
Bookmobile Schedule Mar. 1972-June 1972
Brief History of Library Service for Orange County has details from 1923-1962 and, a lot of the information, deals with the bookmobile, traveling branch (also a bookmobile) and library stations.
History of the Library appears to have been created in 1970 as the last data mentioned is from 1969. It has a great history of the branches, including the bookmobiles, traveling branch, and the library stations.
Press Release - New green and white Bookmobile for Osceola County and retirement of the orange Osceola County bookmobile.
Calendars for Osceola Library Service from 1972-1977, provided by Orange County Library System, including bookmobile stops.
Calendars for the Orange, Seminole and Osceola Bookmobile Service from 1972-1979, provided by Orange County Library System, including bookmobile stops. The last calendar announces the retirement in May 1979.
Press Release - Bookmobile service sunsets due to new branches and Books by Mail program.