08 January 2017

History of Bookmobile Services in Beaufort County

You may be anticipating the return of Bookmobile Services here in Beaufort County. Many people have fond memories of checking out books from bookmobiles. 

The first bookmobile service here started more than 60 years ago and ended in 1993. In 2015, new Library Director Ray McBride proposed the return of bookmobile services to some areas of Beaufort County. Beaufort County Council agreed to fund McBride's proposal thus setting in motion the hiring of Amanda Brewer as the Bookmobile Librarian in 2016. A new bookmobile vehicle is expected to be on the road providing books, videos, computer access, and programs by mid-March this year. 

To give context to the resurrected service delivery mode, Brewer researched Beaufort Township Library records, Beaufort County Library records, and vertical file materials we hold here in the Beaufort District Collection to compile the "Beaufort County Bookmobile Timeline" and information about past "Beaufort County Bookmobile Librarians" posted below. Be sure to listen to her interview with Armistead Reasoner for the Library's In Biblio Novitas podcast. It's being recorded on 11 January 2017. Reasoner gets the podcast up rather quickly so expect it to be online within the next two weeks or so.  

Beaufort County Bookmobile Timeline
Compiled by Amanda Brewer, MLS, Bookmobile Librarian, December 2016

1956          Operating out of the Laura Towne Library at Penn Community Center, Mrs. Wilhelmina Barnwell and Mrs. Ethel Bailey delivered books in their personal vehicles to children on St. Helena Island and Lady’s Island.   

1958         Two years later, Mrs. Barnwell and Mrs. Bailey had more demand than their vehicles could accommodate. The AKA Sorority at S.C. State College awarded a $400 grant towards the purchase of a bookmobile. A used bookmobile from Richland County Public Library was acquired for $450 (including taxes, a new paint job, and repairs).  Mrs. Barnwell drove this bookmobile around St. Helena Island and Lady’s Island for 9 years. Approximately 1,000 books circulated each month through her 15 “Book Outposts”.

[We know that it’s not from the Beaufort Gazette in 1958 or 1959. Amanda read microfilm of the 1958 and 1959 Beaufort Gazette issues looking for the image and article.]

1962          The Beaufort Township Library and the Laura Towne Library at Penn Community Center merged to form the Beaufort County Library system.   The fully integrated Beaufort County Library system consisted of the Laura Towne and Washington branch libraries.  The Laura Towne library bookmobile continued operation to St. Helena Island and Lady’s Island.

1963          A second bookmobile was purchased from Barnwell County Library. This 1952 model bookmobile had shelves that opened on the outside and held 1,000 books. With two vehicles in operation, the Beaufort County Library bookmobiles travelled 1,000 miles per month and circulated 3,000 books.  Also in 1963, Beaufort County Library was awarded the Dorothy Canfield Fisher award as the nation’s outstanding small library.

 1966         Senator James M. Waddell Jr. helped procure funding for a new bookmobile. Both of the old bookmobiles were traded in for a new walk-in model purchased from the Boyertown Company for $10,096. This bookmobile had the capacity to house 1,500 books.

1973         In 1973, the “new” bookmobile had 65,000 miles and was plagued by repairs.  It was sold to Georgetown Memorial Library and a new bookmobile was purchased. The new model had the capacity to hold 3,000 books.  During its operation, this bookmobile ran a schedule of 57 stops in 35 communities.

(Beaufort County Library Corporate Archives, Beaufort District Collection)

  1983        At 78,275 miles, brake failure, and a broken transmission, the bookmobile was retired and a new vehicle was ordered from the Black River Bookmobile Company in Camden, SC. This $41,000 bookmobile was equipped with a wheel chair lift and had the capacity to store 2,500 books.

(Beaufort County Library Corporate Archives, Beaufort District Collection) 

1985         After several delays, the new Blackriver Bookmobile arrived in March 1985. 

1993      Engine failure and a broken crankshaft in June 1993 suspended bookmobile service indefinitely.  According to archives of Library Board of Trustees Minutes from June 1993, the repair costs ($6,000) exceeded the following year’s allotted repairs budget.  Decrease in demand for bookmobile service and increase maintenance costs led to the proposal to sell the bookmobile and use the money generated from the sale to purchase a van or station wagon for library use.
2016          Beaufort County Library ordered a new bookmobile from Farber Specialty Vehicles. 

Beaufort County Bookmobile Librarians

Using their personal vehicles, Mrs. Wilhelmina Barnwell and Mrs. York Bailey were the first librarians to offer book delivery service in Beaufort County. They travelled St. Helena Island and Lady’s Island delivering books from the Laura Towne Library at Penn Community Center.

Mrs. Olive Fordham (from 1962-1965) a Winthrop college graduate and native of Mullins, SC was the first bookmobile librarian for the Beaufort County Library system. A former Beaufort Elementary School teacher and wife of a businessman, Mrs. Fordham took the job seeking a way to “keep busy” and remained in the job until she retired in 1965.

The second bookmobile librarians were Mrs. Maisie Pugh (from 1965-1970) replacing Mrs. Fordham  and Mrs. Agnes Sherman (1965-1973) who worked at the Laura Towne Library and continued bookmobile service on St. Helena.

Natalie Lane manned the bookmobile from 1970-1981. Rosa Cummings teamed up with Natalie Lane in 1973.  Lane maintained the southern Beaufort County route while Cummings maintained the northern Beaufort County route. 
(Beaufort Gazette, 22 April 1977)
Paul Sayers was hired in 1981 to replace Natalie Lane.  

In 1983, Paul Sayers resigned and Rosa Cummings was promoted to another position. Jeanette Parker, a children’s librarian, and Sharon Mosley staffed the bookmobile from 1983 until bookmobile service was suspended.  


In 2016, Amanda Brewer was hired as bookmobile librarian. 


Barnwell, Hillary S. "'Book Outposts' became Bookmobile." Beaufort Gazette [Beaufort, SC] 19 Apr.
1985: no page.

Beaufort County Library Corporate Archives, Beaufort District Collection, Beaufort County Library. 

Beaufort District Collection, Beaufort County Library (SC), vertical files: "Beaufort County Library - Bookmobile Services" and "Beaufort County Library - History." 

"Beaufort Pleased with Bookmobile." News and Courier [Charleston, SC] 10 July 1962: no page. Print.

"Bookmobile Achieves Tremendous Response in its Early Stages." Beaufort Gazette [Beaufort, SC] 16
Aug. 1962: no page. Print.

"Library gets new Bookmobile Unit." Beaufort Gazette [Beaufort, SC] 1 Dec. 1966: Sec. A, no page.  Print.

Newcomb, Ralph Jr. “The Library will even come to you.” Illustration. Beaufort Gazette [Beaufort, SC]
22 April 1977: Sec. B, no page. Print.

Nolen, E. C. "Bookmobile Librarian Job is one she wouldn't trade." Beaufort Gazette [Beaufort, SC] 22
Apr. 1965: no page. Print.

Zachowski, Julie. “Bookmobile and Book Money Status”. Memo to Library Board Members. Beaufort
County Library Corporate Archives, Beaufort District Collection.  Beaufort, SC. 11 June  1993. Print.

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