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Words on wheels: Nashville Public Library’s innovative history

Before your neighborhood branch opened, NPL brought books to you via reading rooms, booketerias, and a library on wheels service.

A truck with a trailer-like bed carrying books pulls up to the outside of Stewart's Cash Grocery where patrons await its arrival.

Employees of the Nashville Public Library traveled in the truck to bring books to the community.

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Read: Novel ideas. Before the development, skyscrapers, and easy access interstates, Davidson County remained rural for most of the 20th century. By 1940, only around six library branches were serving the county, including Carnegie Library of Nashville + the south, north, and east branch libraries.

Limited access to the community meant the service had to get creative when it came to getting books in the hands of Nashvillians. Cue: bookmobiles, booketerias, reading rooms, and more.

Hitting the road

In 1941, the State Library Project formed a bookmobile, which made weekly rounds through Davidson County. The project was directed by Librarian F.K.W. Drury + sponsored by the Works Progress Administration, NPL, the County School Library, and the local Rotary Club. This process began before library access was free. Until 1950, patrons paid for a $2 book card.

By 1947, the Nashville Public Library formed the “library on wheels,” and in 1956, the service was extended to all of Davidson County. Fun fact: One vehicle in service held as many as 3,000 titles. Libraries on wheels were active until 2008.

Ramping up reading

Other quirky ways the library worked to get literature in the hands of the community included booketerias in 1953, which offered a small number of books for self-service checkout at grocery stores. Plus, the Nashville Public Library Airport Reading Room was the first concept of its kind to be established in a municipal airport nationwide. Opened in 1962 and closed by 1969, the Reading Room allowed travelers and the airline crew to relax in between flights.

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