Diane Ackerman

Diane Ackerman left Waukegan at age 8, so her “memories are veiled,” but this prolific poet, essayist, and naturalist remembered enough to write the following essay about her experiences with the Waukegan Public Library bookmobiles. She elaborates on her experiences in Waukegan in the introduction to her 1991 book The Moon by Whale Light. She also mentions that Waukegan “for some reason has driven over eighty of its onetime residents to become writers of some kind.”

“Does the library still send out Bookmobiles? By the time I was in third grade, I knew where to find heroes, monsters, and other worlds between covers, in a friendly little cave with wheels—the Bookmobile—which stopped only two blocks from my house. Outside, it looked like an unassuming trailer or bus, but inside the walls were lined with colorful books that smelled of wood shavings, silver polish, and dust, just like a real library. It had solid wooden shelves, a card catalogue, and moveable steps for reaching the higher books. I couldn’t reach them anyway, since the steps only added three feet to me, but the children’s books were shelved at ground level, so I could sit on the carpet and choose among half a dozen to adopt. One of the things I liked best about the Bookmobile was the 12” by 8” cream-colored cardboard print of a suitcase named “World Traveler” that I got the first day I started taking out books. Every week I received a new stamp to put on my suitcase, beginning with a pink one of a Bookmobile driving down a country lane, then one of Norway, India, South America, Africa, Spain, Holland, U.S.S.R., Sweden, Scotland. Somewhere along the line, I earned a blue satin ribbon that said “Reading Achievement Award,” which the librarian stapled to my suitcase with a flourish. I especially liked the thin colorful books with gold spines in which Santa rode his sleigh across the sky or Pinocchio danced. My love of books began there, in that slender kingdom on wheels.”