History of the Mobile Library

The idea of packing books into a vehicle for distribution predates the automobile, but mobile library collections became a reality in Charleston County during the golden age of the motor car. Since the first gasoline-powered bookmobiles hit the road here in 1931, generations of tireless drivers have carried many tons of books to remote corners of the county to foster a love of learning outside of traditional libraries. As CCPL’s thirteenth bookmobile, or “mobile library” prepares to continue this ninety-year-old tradition, let’s review a brief history of the county’s books (and more) on wheels.

The first branch of the Charleston Free Library, as it was initially known, opened on January 1st, 1931, within a portion of the Charleston Museum on Rutledge Avenue. Like many other public libraries of that era, its creation stemmed from a collaboration of public and private funds. Charleston County government provided the seed money, but most of the early capital came from the Rosenwald Fund and the Carnegie Corporation. Those donated funds, predicated on generous philanthropic principles, required the new library to provide free service to all residents of Charleston County. Because most of the local population lived in rural areas at that time, the library’s first challenge was to extend service across eighty miles of Lowcountry terrain that includes numerous sea islands.

Learn more in episode 196 of the Charleston Time Machine podcast.