It was in the humble little bookmobile that the Iredell County Public Library first began.
In 1936 a meeting was held between representatives from the Statesville Public Library and the Mooresville Public Library and Iredell County School Superintendent T. Ward Guy. Mr. Guy’s was concerned over the lack of school libraries in Iredell County and felt that the students needed access to more books.
Superintendent Guy’s solution was to acquire the county’s first library bookmobile. Mr. Guy obtained the bookmobile while the Statesville and Mooresville Libraries along with the North Carolina Library Commission supplied the books. The first bookmobile obtained was an old reconditioned school bus acquired by the Iredell County Board of Education.
The bookmobile began service by visiting the schools serving as a mobile school library. Almost immediately the bookmobile began making stops at other locations to allow county citizens to come and check out books. By 1938 it was providing library services to the entire county.
Mrs. Mary Gilbert, Supervisor of the WPA Library and Book Mending Project was the first librarian while the first driver was Mr. William Hatchet. The WPA defrayed their salaries and the book depository was located on the third floor of the City Hall in Statesville.
In 1938 the book depository was moved to larger quarters on the second floor of the Welfare Building on Court House Square in Statesville. In 1940 the “bookbus” was replaced by a Chevrolet panel truck which had a revolving wheel with four shelves on the inside. In 1941 the home of the bookmobile was again moved to the basement of the Iredell County Courthouse.
In 1948 a new Chevrolet truck was purchased and turned into a bookmobile. It had shelves along the sides from which patrons could walk up and select books. In 1952 a Ford Vannette replaced the truck bookmobile. The Ford was the first one in which patrons could actually walk inside and be served.
The Iredell County Public Library existed solely as a bookmobile operation until the fall of 1954 when they began checking out books to walk in visitors where they stored their books. Mrs. Nancy S. Pumphrey was hired as a part-time librarian with her salary coming from State Aid.
The library was again moved and opened as a public library in the correct sense on July 10, 1956. As late as 1961 the bookmobile was still visiting 19 different schools to supply students with books.
In 1962 a big red and white Moroney bookmobile was purchased for $8,319.50 and put into service. It was specially built as a bookmobile and had room for 2000 volumes. It contained two heaters, one of which operated off the engine and the other by bottled gas.
The Iredell County Bookmobile has traveled all over the county making stops at schools, stores, clubs, hospitals, rest homes, daycare centers, parks, and individual homes for over 68 years. Today it continues to operate and play an important role in providing library services to the citizens of Iredell County.
During the 2003-2004 fiscal year the bookmobile circulated nearly 16, 000 items. Books borrowed from the bookmobile can be returned either to the bookmobile, the headquarters library in Statesville, or the Harmony Library.
The current bookmobile was purchased in Dec. 1991. It was built by Matthews Specialty of High Point who designed the interior on a 31 feet Thomas built chassis with a Cumings diesel motor and an Oman diesel generator. The original cost of the vehicle was $120,000, but it was purchased as a demonstrator with 2,000 miles for $90,000.
The staff averages about 50 stops per month. Approximately 1200 adults and 3,000 children visit the bookmobile each year. Over 700 additional people are served by items distributed by assisted living and nursing home staff each month. The staff also makes individual deliveries as an extension service using a county van.
Library staff members Bernie Tompkins and Priscilla Cain operate the bookmobile. Bernie has been with the library for 15 years. When she started the bookmobile operations were headquartered in the basement of the courthouse.
It was then moved to the old laundry building behind the current library. Since that building has been torn down to make way for the new library they are now housed in an office space near Lowe’s. They will be permanently housed in the new library building when it is completed.
Life on the road can have its moments. Bernie related that “Once when we were out on a run a man came running out to flag us down. We stopped and he came up and he’d be trying to catch us for over a month. We thought he wanted to borrow books, but instead he was looking to donate blood.”
The bookmobile schedule is posted on the library’s website each month at www.iredell.lib.nc.us. You can also contact the main library at 704-878-3093 or leave a voice mail at 704-878-3099.
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Iredell County bookmobile still trucking after almost 70 years” on Sept. 15, 2004.