October 5, 2010


You may remember a TV commercial with the jingle-like theme song, "It's the latest, it's the greatest, it's the library." But do you remember Levittown's blue bus-like bookmobile?

In the late 1940s and 1950s, most families in our cozy little part of the world had only one car. Dad took the vehicle to work, leaving mom stuck at home while the kids had to get around by foot or bicycle. Car pools were a thing of the future.

The Barnings had a 1947 Studebaker which one friend described as having the color of vomit. Dad worked six days a week and the Studebaker spent many hours at the Hicksville railroad station.

Getting to the library, unless you lived within walking distance, was a Saturday thing. My family moved to Levittown in late 1954. According to Levittown historian Lynne Matarrese, "The Levittown Public Library opened its doors on June 30, 1951 at the South Village Green with a 3,000-book collection." That was a long haul for those of us who lived on the north side. The current library on Bluegrass Lane opened 12-years later. Three hundred houses were occupied starting on October 1, 1947, so the town was without a library building for nearly four years.

Fortunately for those of us who enjoyed reading, Levittown had a bookmobile. It had a specific route around town and our family calendar was sure to include a notation of its next stop near our home on Hyacinth Road.

I was wondering when the bookmobile program started, how many vehicles were in the fleet (probably there was only one) and how often did one arrive at the stops on its route? When was this service discontinued?

I emailed a few old friends, asking them to provide information that I did not have and to contribute their bookmobile memories. The response was sparse. Some had no memory at all and two said they didn't read books.

What follows are memories from three of my contacts who remember the bookmobile:

Midge Bollinger Finck, 1960
I remember it coming to the front of Mays on Friday nights. Pat Kraft, Flo Cornell and I used to be there waiting. The gentleman who drove was still driving the bookmobile in the 1980s and he always drove in the Memorial Day parade.

Bill Newman, 1963
I remember the bookmobile coming down Carnation Road. I had no thought of ever going into it. Books, school or anything that had to do with learning was not the highest priority for me or the crowd I hung with.

We were more interested in distracting the Good Humor man and stealing ice cream from him. We played poker for cigarettes and when they got so ragged we smoked them or repacked them.

Lillian Smith Handleman, 1962
Whenever the Bookmobile rolled onto our street, my mother would insist I take out a book. It was a special occasion to look forward to--like the ice cream man coming, or the Dugan's pastry truck, or the milkman delivering glass bottles of milk to our doorstep. The first book I ever borrowed from the bookmobile was Pippy Longstockings. I can't believe I remember that.


Janet said...

And...Frank,the bookmobile apparently made a turn somewhere in Levittown and ended up in front of my country school in Nebraska on a Monday morning in 1956! What a treasure and a treat!

Anonymous said...

Jim Urban emailed to Frank Barning...
My mother was pretty much bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis. She loved to read. When the bookmobile came to our block, one of us was tasked with taking out as many books as were allowed. Yaaaayyy for the Bookmobile.My mother was pretty much bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis. She loved to read. When the bookmobile came to our block, one of us was tasked with taking out as many books as were allowed. Yaaaayyy for the Bookmobile.

Anonymous said...

Here is more info......from Rob O'Boyle, brother of Dr. Michael O'Boyle class of 1960. Rob drove a bookmobile....Helen Clinch was the librarian for the bookmobile when I first worked at LPL. Herb Blinder and John Burlingame were the drivers. There were two bookmobiles in the late 60's and 70's. Florence Thomas and Mrs. Tremebley were there in the 1970's."

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog. Nice to know a fellow Levittown resident is up online with me and my blog. Loved the Bookmobile. Wrote a story about it that was included in the anthology "Growing Up on Memory Lane." And a similar story is going into my memoir about my childhood in Levittown. Just FYI==there is a Levittown page on facebook. I moved out of Levittown when I was 14 so I never went to the high schools there but I still live close by and do lots of visits. One day I took a walk through the old neighborhood--wrote about that on my blog too.
Happy reminiscing!

renee said...

don't know why that last comment was published anonymous. Loved that bookmobile, why would I want to hide that? It's me, Renee!

Claudine said...

I remember the bookmobile. I was born in 1971 and attended Wisdom Lane when it was an elementary school from 1976 to 1983. The bookmobile used to come to the school and we used to hop an and get books. It was fun for a kid. I think they unfortunately stopped that though. However I think the idea is great and it's a great way of getting kids to get a book. I know kindles and such are taking over, but nothing replaces the smell or feel of a library book