By the time even smaller cities had public libraries, patrons still had to live in town to use them. The idea of taking library materials to smaller towns and rural areas took form only in the twentieth century.
Depending on which website is correct, the first bookmobile service in the US started either in Chester County, South Carolina or Washington County, Maryland. Washington County’s effort (from 1905) is better documented, but Chester County’s claims to have started in 1904.
The idea caught on and spread first to neighboring counties and eventually throughout most of the country. Today, some kind of bookmobile service exists in every state but Maine. The first bookmobiles were horse-drawn wagons. Motorized vehicles came later.
Today, bookmobile service has broadened to include cities. Some urban bookmobiles exist in response to renovations that have closed branch libraries or budgetary inability to build new ones where they’re needed. Others especially target populations with special needs, like the disabled, the elderly, immigrant communities, migrant workers, or child care centers.
As libraries have changed, so have bookmobiles. Besides offering new materials like DVDs, e-readers, and video games. some bookmobiles have become traveling computer labs for poor neighborhoods. Bookmobiles also provide such other standard library services as story times, job seeking workshops, and classes for learning English.
So for more than a century, if you can’t go to the library, the library will come to you.