Celebrating the Bookmobile on National Library Outreach Day

National Library Outreach Day (formerly National Bookmobile Day) celebrates library outreach and the dedicated library professionals who are meeting their patrons where they are.  

ACLA Mobile Services is on the road every day, providing support services to enhance and expand the rich library resources available in Allegheny County. Mobile Services offers much of what a physical library building provides, offering a personalized environment in a location accessible to patrons who may not otherwise be able to visit a library. 

ACLA Mobile Services Today

Mobile Services’ Community Route

Funded by the local communities, school districts and public libraries, ACLA Mobile Library Services currently visits nine communities throughout the county. The bookmobile is stocked with a wide variety of materials for children and adults and provides many of the same library services available in a stationary building. 

Mobile Services’ Preschool Services

ACLA Mobile Library Services provides monthly visits to select Head Start classrooms and daycares throughout Allegheny County. A visit consists of a 20-minute storytime in the classroom followed by a visit to the bookmobile by the children and staff, where they can check out their own books. We also register children for what will typically be their first library card. 

Mobile Services’ Senior Services

ACLA Mobile Library Services provides monthly visits to select senior high-rises and assisted living centers throughout Allegheny County. Bookmobile staff will bring multiple book carts into the facility, along with items that were pre-ordered by residents and/or activity personnel. In this way, Mobile Services eliminates many barriers to the use of the bookmobile such as inclement weather, navigating sidewalks and stairs, and possibly excluding patrons from taking advantage of the service due to other mobility issues. 

Bookmobile Through The Decades

Bookmobile – the 1950s 

Bookmobiles first started providing service in Allegheny County in 1952. The program originated at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, providing two vehicles that traveled throughout Pittsburgh. Because there were library branches located at some of the sites visited by the City Bookmobile, the service was ultimately discontinued. 

In the late 1950s, the Allegheny County Government opted to pay for library services in the county and ultimately funded additional bookmobile service throughout the county utilizing three vehicles. The success of the Bookmobile program led to the formation of physical libraries in many communities around the county. 

Bookmobile – the 1960s 

In the mid 1960s, the bookmobile service was relocated to the West End near to the West End Branch. Facilities were built specifically for the needs of the collection, staff and vehicles. At this time, all service was outside of the City of Pittsburgh, and the access to major roads made the West End a better hub than Oakland. 

Bookmobile – the 1990s 

In the early 1990s, Bookmobiles continued general library service to public housing sites throughout Allegheny County, including the city of Pittsburgh. As new libraries opened in these communities, the demand for Bookmobiles decreased.   

In response to the growing number of new physical libraries opening, Mobile Services expanded their services to meet the needs of the communities.  Direct service to Head Start programs outside the City of Pittsburgh was the first new service added. The monthly service consisted of a storytime in the classroom and a visit on the bookmobile.  Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, with the support of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, received a grant to purchase a Bookmobile designed specifically for preschool service. The program visited more than 40 sites per month.  

In the mid 1990s, Bookmobile began offering Senior Services.  Initially, these were deposit collections, which are sets of books left at a site such as senior housing that are periodically removed and replaced with different titles.  Thanks to a grant, Mobile Services was able to purchase a Bookmobile designed specifically for senior service.  More than 20 sites were visited on a monthly basis. 

Bookmobile – the 2000s 

In 2001, the County announced it would no longer be able to fund the bookmobile. Throughout 2001-2002, alternative sources of funding were explored. Beginning in 2002, the Allegheny Regional Asset District and Citizens Bank became funders. The Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD) agreed to fund the services to children and seniors, and Citizens Bank funded the senior service. 

Beginning in 2003, administration of bookmobile services was transferred from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to the Allegheny County Library Association. Changes to the service was necessary to fit within the available budget that was half that of previous years. 

General library service by the bookmobile to local communities became fee based. Seven stops were funded by the communities and the remaining 15 stops were cancelled. 

With assistance from Citizens Bank, a new bookmobile that was accessible to older adults with physical limitations was put into service. The bookmobile was easily accessible by wheelchair or walker via a ramp, and additionally had shallow steps at the rear for ease of boarding and exiting. 

In collaboration with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, Head Start sites and daycares in low-income communities were served by a specialized vehicle that sat lower to the ground. The preschool bookmobile provided curriculum based storytime and staff support. 

Bookmobile – the 2010s  

An in-depth study of the senior service was conducted in 2011, and it was determined that changing service from on vehicle to the facilities’ lobbies would effectively remove all barriers to access. A new vehicle was purchased to enable this change, and the program was transitioned to a lobby service in 2012. Within a year, both cardholders and use increased by roughly 40%. Senior service has expanded to monthly stops at nearly 40 sites, including senior centers, senior high-rises, independent and assisted living facilities. 

In 2014, the community bookmobile was nearing the end of its life. An opportunity to purchase a gently used, low mileage bookmobile became available. ACLA was fortunate to win the bid on Palatine Public Library’s bookmobile. After repainting and branding, the new to ACLA bookmobile hit the road in 2015. 

The preschool bookmobile was replaced in 2017 with another child friendly vehicle that allows for ease of access, front facing book display, and low seating. Children’s book author and illustrator Suzanne Bloom permitted the artwork from her Splendid Friends series to be used on the vehicle. Service has expanded from 9 to 12 months a year, and visits Head Starts and daycares throughout Allegheny County. 


Community Service Bookmobile Today – 2004 Blue Bird 

This vehicle is what is commonly pictured when one thinks of a bookmobile.  This bookmobile was acquired in 2014 from the Palatine Library District outside of Chicago, Illinois when they discontinued their bookmobile program.  It is a 33-foot long Blue Bird bus loaded with materials for all age groups.   

Almost half the bookmobile is stocked with young adult and children’s items, including audiobooks and DVDs.  The remainder of the bookmobile carries plenty of new and old fiction, non-fiction, large print, adult audiobooks and DVDs, some music CDs and plenty of travel books!  This Bookmobile provides services to a municipality that does not have its own local library, a school district comprised of four boroughs, and three libraries using our service to expand their reach into their communities.   

Preschool Bookmobile Today – 2017 Ford F35 

This Bookmobile was purchased new in 2017 from OBS, Inc. out of Canton, Ohio. This truck is used to provide services to preschool and Head Start programs throughout Allegheny County. It is a 30-foot step-van carrying an assortment of picture books designed for children between three and five years old, as well as an abundant collection of teacher resource materials purchased to coincide with their curriculums. A typical visit from this Bookmobile includes a classroom storytime, involving plenty of songs and movement activities, coupled with the children selecting a book from the Bookmobile to borrow until our next visit. This bookmobile currently visits 53 classrooms on a monthly basis. 

Senior Bookmobile Today  – 2012 Ford E-450

This Bookmobile was purchased new in 2012 from OBS, Inc. out of Canton, Ohio. This vehicle provides services to senior citizen high rises and assisted living centers. It is a 28-foot box truck outfitted to provide lobby services using book trucks that can be removed from the vehicle via a wheelchair lift. It carries large print versions of new and older fiction, some non-fiction, and an assortment of DVDs, audiobooks, and music CDs. Additionally, there are many resources on board for caregivers and activity directors to aid them in program development. Currently, this Bookmobile provides service to 51 locations on a monthly basis.

Thank you for joining us for National Library Outreach Day and celebrating ACLA Mobile Services.  If you would like to visit a Bookmobile, please see the schedule to find a stop near you.   

Many thanks to Allegheny Regional Asset District for their continued support of the amazing services that Mobile Services brings to the communities it serves.