Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

News stories from the Renfrew-Collingwood community in East Vancouver

Adult education time machine: The history of the bookmobile in Renfrew-Collingwood

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BY JOHN MENDOZA

Collingwood Bookmobile

Interior of Vancouver Public Library Bookmobile with Harry M. Boyce, Peter Grossman, and Colin Robertson, 1953, Photographer: Province Newspaper. Photo from the Special Collections Historical Collections at the Vancouver Public Library, VPL Accession Number 3403

Much has been written about the architectural importance of the Vancouver Public Library’s Collingwood Branch Library here in Renfrew-Collingwood. Its modernist architectural design was so striking that, at one time, it was the most visited modernist building in all of Vancouver.

In turn, the design won the local architectural partnership of the commission to design the award-winning main library branch once housed at the corner of Burrard and Robson Street in downtown Vancouver.

However, a lesser but equally important story is the fact that Collingwood Branch Library was once home to Vancouver Public Library’s bookmobile. When there were far fewer branch libraries in Vancouver, a proposal for a bookmobile was mentioned in the Vancouver Public Library’s 1950 annual report.

By March 1956, the bookmobile was up and running, and quite popular with library patrons. According to an old newspaper article from the Vancouver Herald from July 19, 1956, the total circulation of library materials in the bookmobile’s first four months of operation was approximately 45,000 – a number equal to a small branch library.

The Vancouver Public Library’s humble Collingwood library was connected to the bookmobile as the branch library was headquarters for the bookmobile and its book supply. The book stock on the bookmobile was approximately 2,000 books. However, the bookmobile could pull from its inventory of 18,000 books from its storage area at Collingwood library.

From its humble home in Renfrew-Collingwood, the bookmobile once operated five days a week and initially had a dozen weekly stops all over the city. According to a 1960 annual report from the Vancouver Public Library, consistently popular bookmobile stops included Kingsway and Fraser, 25th Avenue and Main Street, 54th Avenue and Elliot, 54th Avenue and Victoria and Commercial and Broadway.

This little book bus operated by the Vancouver Public Library could definitely be categorized as an important agent in the development of informal adult education here in Vancouver.

An article in the Province newspaper from April 4, 1972, chronicled that the Vancouver Public Library even began as the “ ‘New London Mechanics Institute,’ a recreation room and library for employees of Hastings Mill at the foot of Dunlevy” when education and learning was at a premium. Many of these mechanics institutes were the predecessors of more formal institutions of adult education.

Furthermore, a Vancouver Public Library annual report from 1956 revealed that “wheels have brought the Vancouver Public Library to thousands of people who do not have the advantage of branch library service nearby” and its success encouraged the bookmobile’s librarian to say that the city needed more branch libraries.

According to an existing article written by Nora Schubert, the bookmobile’s route ran past several seniors’ homes, reaching an audience that otherwise may have gone without library service.

The bookmobile may have had humble roots, but it was an agent of transformation for both informal adult learning in the city and for the evolution of the city’s library system.

Local resident and writer John Mendoza uncovered this Renfrew-Collingwood connection while looking at the history of adult education in Vancouver. This article was originally written as an assignment for the University of BC.

Copyright (c) 2017 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News

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