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.
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.
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.
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 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.