Posts In Tag: ida

National Bookmobile Day: Historically SpeakEasy

At House of SpeakEasy we believe that book-ownership should be a right, not a privilege.

In 2017, with the help of Billy and Kathy Rayner, we launched The SpeakEasy Bookmobile.

We came up with the design logo – but – historically speaking – the idea was Aristotle’s.

Owning a book is a unique form of wealth. What the SpeakEasy BookMobile is doing is enabling that wealth to be shared.

The kings of Babylon built the first libraries. But they weren’t so interested in the sharing part. This is where Aristotle comes in. He amassed the largest private collection of books in the world, and let it circulate.

But since not everyone could read, Aristotle also shared the knowledge they contained by giving free lectures throughout Athens. He turned himself into a bookmobile – on legs.

Aristotle’s mission was the same as SpeakEasy’s today: to foster a sense of community, spread ideas, and educate young people.

Libraries and mass literacy were among the first casualties from the Fall of Rome in the 5th century. Book ownership became the greatest privilege of all. Few people ever questioned why it should be this way until the rise of universal education in the 19th century.

Step forward the working-class members of the Mechanics Institute in Warrington, England.

Frustrated with living in a book desert, in 1859 they raised 275 pounds – about $35,000 to day – for a “Perambulating Library”. In its first year it lent out over 12,000 books.

In the US, the credit for America’s first bookmobile belongs to Miss Mary Titcomb, head librarian of Washington County, Maryland. She was very proper, kind of scary, and a total visionary. “The book goes to the man”, she declared. To make that happen, in 1904, she purchased a horse-drawn wagon with specially fitted shelves, just like House of SpeakEasy’s.

Her idea spread like wildfire.

During the Great Depression, the WPA funded its own fleet of bookmobiles – even the Defense Department got on board, sending converted jeeps to the front lines during World War II.

By 1956, more than 30 million Americans were relying on bookmobiles. Margaret Atwood once wrote, “the Bookmobile was the whole world parked on my gravel road.” Even today, in the age of the Internet, there are over 600 bookmobiles in service.

But SpeakEasy BookMobile does something different.

It goes where the need is greatest and distributes new books for free. We launched shortly after the last general bookstore in the Bronx, – home to 1.5 million residents – closed its doors.

What does that mean? According to an NYU study, it means neighborhoods where there is 1 children’s book per 300 children.

The BookMobile doesn’t just serve the Five Boroughs. In 2019, the year before Covid, it drove 4,000 miles across country, visiting 18 cities in 14 states. Seriously Entertaining went with it, and we distributed over 10,000 books along the way.

The Pandemic created a lot of need, and the BooKMobile was there to help, thanks to the Mayor’s Office, Bank of America, and Amazon Literary Partnerships. We even started a whole new books program – the Artmobile – with a generous grant from the Helen frankenthaler Foundation.

There is so much more more we want to achieve. We don’t need ChatGPT to imagine what future SpeakEasy BookMobiles might look like – but we asked it anyway.

We’re proud that the SpeakEasy Bookmobile is part of a long tradition, and with your support we will continue the work of those who came before us.

On supporting a (reading) ecosystem

The Bookmobile at Red Hook Initiative August 11 was another hot day in New York City. When the Bookmobile rolled up to Red Hook, Brooklyn for a graduation celebration in partnership with the Red Hook Initiative, it was met by six-year-old Jeremiah — who had a plan....

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On actively engaging with heritage

The Bookmobile for Fifth of July On Saturday, July 9, the SpeakEasy Bookmobile visited Weeksville Heritage Center at the border of Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy, in celebration of the Fifth of July. Fifth celebrations date back to 1827, when Black New Yorkers joined in...

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On Loving a Place

The SpeakEasy Bookmobile on Juneteenth Weekend On my first outing with the SpeakEasy Bookmobile, I was told to expect the unexpected when it came to the types of books people might find appealing. I was happily surprised by what I witnessed on my first of two days...

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Writers and Storytelling: Larry Olmsted

Larry Olmsted is an award-winning journalist who has been a visiting professor at Dartmouth College, where he taught nonfiction writing. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Real Food / Fake Food and Getting into Guinness, a history of the Guinness Book...

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Writers and Storytelling: Michelle Nijhuis

Michelle Nijhuis is a project editor at The Atlantic, a contributing editor at High Country News, and an award-winning reporter whose work has been published in National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine. She is co-editor of The Science Writers’ Handbook and...

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Writers and Storytelling: Mary H. K. Choi

Mary H. K. Choi is a writer for The New York Times, GQ, Wired, and The Atlantic. She has written comics for Marvel and DC, as well as a collection of essays called Oh, Never Mind. Her novels Emergency Contact and Permanent Record were New York Times bestsellers. She...

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Writers and Storytelling: Avi Loeb

Avi Loeb is the former chair of the astronomy department at Harvard University (2011-2020), founding director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative and director of the Institute for Theory and Computation at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. He also chairs...

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