From Bookmobiles to a Packhorse Library
Today is National Bookmobile Day. We honor the dedication of librarians who, since the 1920's, have delivered books and magazines to those who live too far from libraries to jog to the neighborhood library or stop by after work. These determined librarians loaded books into trucks and jounced off to far flung places, up and down winding country roads, around wooded curves, carrying and sharing the very library materials we take for granted. Some still do. Applause and cheers, please. Outdoor voices are fine when you see the bookmobile rounding the bend.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, it ushered in the Great Depression. Poverty and hunger turned poor conditions into desperate situations. Most hard hit were areas like the Cumberland Mountains in Kentucky. Folks who lived there reached their homes by trudging down a dry creek bed or following a trail through the woods. No bookmobile could travel those rocky hills. 4-wheel drive wasn’t available in the 1920's. No one could predict it, but pack horses would soon become a new kind of bookmobile.
In the mid-1930's President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the New Deal, a relief program, and under it he established the Works Progress Administration. In 1939 this was renamed the Work Projects Administration. Putting both men and women to work was the goal. The most innovative job creation program was Kentucky’s Pack Horse Library Project.
DOWN CUT SHIN CREEK: The Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer, Harper Collins, 2001.
Spend a day with a pack horse librarian and your appreciation for your neighborhood library will soar. Authors Appelt and Schmitzer, who is a librarian and webmaster of “Pack Horse Library,” open their thoroughly researched chronology of the Kentucky Pack Horse Library with a chapter titled, “An Ordinary Day. The Way It Might Have Been.” These talented authors take you there. Feel the cold seeping through thin clothing, the sting of sleet against your face, the hunger gnawing at you as you make your rounds and deliver the prized and welcomed but already worn books and magazines, donated for you to deliver to eager readers on your route. You are one of these people. You live in these hollows. For your pre-dawn to dark delivery route, you are paid the grand sum of $28/month. This job feeds your family. It feeds minds too.
Pack horse libraries were considered one of the most well-liked rural outreach services. The librarians not only introduced many to books, they inspired a love of reading. It’s possible that a pack horse librarian inspired a young Kentucky teacher who in turn played a part in making our library system what it is today. In 1956 United States Representative Carl D. Perkins from Kentucky sponsored the Library Services Act. This act made the first federal appropriations for library service and helped provide funds to establish new libraries, build branch libraries, purchase bookmobiles, buy library collections, and hire new librarians.
Now is a good time to contact your representative and ask him to continue what Mr. Perkins started. Today is a good day to contact your senator and ask him to sign the Appropriations letter circulating in the Senate. Read yesterday’s blog for more on this. Hurry! The best thank-you to librarians today is to say and do this often: Support library funding.