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Traveling Libraries


One of the best ways to beat the heat on these long summer days is to find a little shade and open up a good book. For far-off adventures, no need to go any further than your local public library. However, for some North Dakotans in rural communities, access to libraries is challenging. Nonetheless, trustworthy and dedicated librarians have been finding ways to bring books and educational resources to these communities for over one hundred years.

It was on this date in 1911 that the State Library Commission, headed by Mrs. Minnie C. Budlong, opened its booth at the North Dakota State Fair in Grand Forks, displaying its ‘novel’ service, the “traveling library.” The Bismarck Daily Tribune described this new library service:

Each traveling library consists of 40 to 50 books selected from the works of writers with established reputation, packed in a strong wooden box, and built with shelves like a bookcase…

To obtain a traveling library box, a community needed six interested citizens, and an agreement to pay the cost of shipping. The book boxes could be specialized based on the community’s needs and interests. Books on farming and books written in German and Norwegian were among the most popular and highly requested.

Approximately 300 communities across North Dakota had applied for a traveling library. The robust participation was a strong indication of the ambition, enterprise, and curiosity of the average North Dakotan. As the Tribune’s article further stated:

This has been done with splendid results…and it is pleasant to know that North Dakota is fully abreast of the most progressive states in educational matters.

In 1920, the American Library Association introduced a national movement called “Books for Everybody,” which promoted County Library Book Wagons as yet another means to get library materials to rural communities. The earliest book wagons were literally wagons, drawn by horses. In time, the wagons became motorized, and by the mid 20th century, they were highly specialized and outfitted vehicles, known as bookmobiles.

Library bookmobiles are still active today throughout North Dakota, traversing many miles along county roads, still bringing books, media, and educational materials to rural communities. Even in the digital age, these services provide something the internet cannot: friendly, dedicated librarians ready to help navigate the sea of information.

Written by Maria Witham

Bismarck Daily Tribune, July 29, 1911, p.3

The Hope Pioneer, March 11, 1920, p.3