Mary Lemist Titcomb

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Early mobile library in Washington

Mary Lemist Titcomb (1852–1932) was an originator in Library and Information Science. In 1905 she founded the first bookmobile or mobile library in the United States, in Maryland.


Mary Lemist Titcomb was born in Farmington, New Hampshire in 1852. Titcomb learned of the profession of librarian in a church newsletter, and she took an interest in becoming one.[1]

At the Concord Public Library in Massachusetts, Titcomb began as an apprentice librarian. She applied for a job in Vermont at the Rutland Public Library where she worked for twelve years. Titcomb was also elected as secretary to the first Vermont Library Commission. Titcomb moved on to the Washington County Free Library [2] in Maryland, which opened in 1901. This was only the second county library in the United States.[1] It was work she conducted at this library that made Titcomb better known.

Titcomb strongly believed that libraries should reach out to the surrounding communities. A central library in the county seat would not serve all of the rural coummunity. If libraries waited for people to come to them, the patron base would be nowhere near filling its potential. She set up 22 deposit stations for the Washington County Free Library.[3] These stations were in stores, postoffices, and churches, where the library in Hagerstown could drop off requested books and patrons could pick up such books. The stations were located in different communities, so each patron would only have to travel to the nearest deposit station. Within five years, the number of stations grew from 22 to 66.[1]

It was the idea of the deposit station that helped develop the idea of a bookmobile. The deposit stations were popular, but Titcomb realised that potential patrons were not aware of such services or perhaps did not care. She wanted a way to make books easier to access for those in rural areas. The "book wagon" service was launched in 1905.[4] This was the first time any library in the United States had delivered books to a patron’s home throughout a rural county. The bookmobile was a horse-drawn wagon, which housed a selection of books on shelving built into the wagon’s interior.[4] In 1912 she "took advantage of the International Harvester Autowagon's adaptable chassis to devise the first motorized book truck."[5]

Titcomb recognized the need for training of library personnel. The Washington County Free Library began an official training class in 1924. Other United State libraries offered training, but none of these libraries were as small as the Washington County Free Library. The class that Titcomb offered was comparable to the classes offered at library schools of the time. The training classes at Titcomb’s library continued until 1931.[1] Titcomb died in 1932 at the age of 80. In 1990, Mary Titcomb was inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.[6]


“Would not a Library Wagon, the outward and visible signs of the service for which the Library stood, do much more in cementing friendship? Would the upkeep of the wagon after the first cost be much more than the present method? Is not Washington County with its good roads especially well adapted for testing an experiment of this kind, for the geography of the County is such that it could be comfortably covered by well planned routes? ...

The first wagon, when finished with shelves on the outside and a place for storage of cases in the center resembled somewhat a cross between a grocer's delivery wagon and the tin peddlers cart of by gone New England days. Filled with an attractive collection of books and drawn by two horses, with Mr. Thomas the janitor both holding the reins and dispensing the books, it started on its travels in April 1905." from The Story of the Washington County Free Library (1931)

"Any account of this first Book Wagon work, the first in the United States would be incomplete without the statement that this method of rural library extension has been adopted in many states in the Union, and that new book wagons are being put in operation each year."[4]


  1. ^ a b c d Maryland State Archives at Maryland Women's Hall of Fame] at, accessed August 2009
  2. ^ Washington County Free Library
  3. ^ Maryland State Department of Education,
  4. ^ a b c Western Maryland Historical Library - The First Bookmobile at
  5. ^ Jeffrey Schnapp; Matthew Battles (2014). Library Beyond the Book. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-72503-4. 
  6. ^


  • Titcomb, M. L. (1931). Story of the Washington County Free Library. Hagerstown, MD: Press of Hagerstown Bookbinding & Print. Co
  • Titcomb, M. L. (1909). A County Library and On the trail of the book wagon; two papers read at the meeting of the American Library Association. Hagerstown, MD: Herald Pub. Co.
  • Titcomb, M. L. & Mason, M. (1921). Book Wagons: the county library with rural book delivery. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Free Library commission.