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Posts Tagged ‘pack horse’

Photo: Goodman-Paxton Photographic Collection/Kentucky Digital Library
A Pack Horse Librarian returning over the mountainside for a new supply of books.

Here’s another story about dedicated book people making sure that books get to people in remote places. This one is from the 1930s Depression in the United States.

Eliza McGraw writes at Smithsonian, “Their horses splashed through iced-over creeks. Librarians rode up into the Kentucky mountains, their saddlebags stuffed with books, doling out reading material to isolated rural people. …

“The Pack Horse Library initiative, which sent librarians deep into Appalachia, was one of the New Deal’s most unique plans. The project, as implemented by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), distributed reading material to the people who lived in the craggy, 10,000-square-mile portion of eastern Kentucky. …

“In 1930, up to 31 percent of people in eastern Kentucky couldn’t read. Residents wanted to learn, notes historian Donald C. Boyd. Coal and railroads, poised to industrialize eastern Kentucky, loomed large in the minds of many Appalachians who were ready to take part in the hoped prosperity that would bring. ‘Workers viewed the sudden economic changes as a threat to their survival and literacy as a means of escape from a vicious economic trap,’ writes Boyd. …

“There had been previous attempts to get books into the remote region. In 1913, a Kentuckian named May Stafford solicited money to take books to rural people on horseback, but her project only lasted one year. …

“Unlike many New Deal projects, the packhorse plan required help from locals. ‘Libraries’ were housed any in facility that would step up, from churches to post offices. Librarians manned these outposts, giving books to carriers who then climbed aboard their mules or horses, panniers loaded with books, and headed into the hills. …

“Carriers rode out at least twice a month, with each route covering 100 to 120 miles a week. …

“The books and magazines they carried usually came from outside donations. [Lena Nofcier, who chaired library services for the Kentucky Congress of Parents and Teachers at the time] requested them through the local parent-teacher association. She traveled around the state, asking people in more affluent and accessible regions to help their fellow Kentuckians in Appalachia. …

” ‘ “Bring me a book to read,” is the cry of every child as he runs to meet the librarian with whom he has become acquainted,’ wrote one Pack Horse Library supervisor. ‘Not a certain book, but any kind of book. The child has read none of them.’ …

“Some mountain families initially resisted the librarians, suspicious of outsiders riding in with unknown materials. In a bid to earn their trust, carriers would read Bible passages aloud. Many had only heard them through oral tradition, and the idea that the packhorse librarians could offer access to the Bible cast a positive light on their other materials.”

More here.

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