One of those bookmobiles is the Madison Public Library’s Dream Bus. It’s a public library on wheels with bright cartoon painted on the outside. A local artist and Wisconsin Public Television animator and producer, Rodney Lambright II, created the colorful design on the outside of the Dream Bus. He asked kids what books they liked and what they wanted to see on the wrap.
The outside of the bus is exciting on its own. But on the inside, people can find books, DVDs, CDs, and audio books. Plus, there are computers and people can apply for library cards.
“The idea is to bring library services to people that may otherwise have problems getting to a library,” said Amy Winkelman, a librarian on the Dream Bus. “This is a big outreach project—we want everyone to know they can use the public library service.”
The Dream Bus can hold around 2,500 books on specially tilted shelves that ensure the books don’t down fall off. The librarians stock the appropriate books for each of the seven stops in the city of Madison, as well as for the locations in Sun Prairie. Readers can find anything from foreign language materials to children’s books. Plus, the librarians take special requests and bring them the following week.
“It’s a really fun way to get people excited about a library service,” Winkelman said. “It’s fun to go to people where they live — in their communities where they are and particularly in mobile service.
The Dream Bus is one of the many bookmobiles in Wisconsin. And it’s a state that has a rich history of bookmobiles serving communities, especially in rural places like Door County.
The Door County Bookmobile was a travelling public library that brought an array of books to the peninsula. In the 1950’s, the area’s wealthy families with large book collections or those living near larger cities, like Sturgeon Bay, had the best access to books. Farmers worked all day at the expense of reading time.
Students in rural schools were underperforming in reading and writing. Many school houses in Door County only had about 15 books on their shelves.
“The bookmobile actually was founded out of a need here in Door County—especially for rural readers,” said Michaela Kraft, an intern at the Egg Harbor Historical Society. She has been researching the function of the bookmobile and its legacy for Door County today.
The state funded the bookmobile in Door County and Kewaunee County in the 1950s. It was then up to the residents to decide if they wanted to continue funding it with tax dollars. In 1952, Door County voted to keep the bookmobile.
“This led to increased literacy scores for children living in the area,” Kraft said. “It was also instrumental in a lot of the older generation now loving reading.”
The bookmobile would travel all over the peninsula until 1989. It stopped at churches, school houses, and street corners.
It may appear to just be a rust colored bus with letters painted on the side. But for many children and adults, it was a chance to learn anything from new languages to farming to home improvement tips.
“The school children looked forward to the bookmobile coming because it would come once a week and they could choose anything,” Kraft said.
The bookmobile brought excitement and curiosity to Door County. It opened the world to small communities that otherwise may not know what was going on beyond the peninsula.
“I think before the bookmobile, a lot of children weren’t even aware of print culture,” Kraft said.
In addition to increased literacy scores and eye-opening experiences for isolated residents, it also provided a sense of interconnection among the scattered communities in Door County — much like bookmobiles continue to do today.
Currently, the Egg Harbor Historical Society is working to restore the Door County bookmobile.
This story is a part of “Wisconsin 101: Our History in Objects,” a collaborative public history project created through a partnership between the University of Wisconsin-Madison History Department, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Wisconsin Life” program.
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