Rural Library Service Projects of the National Youth Administration
THE development of rural library service was recommended with other projects for rural youth development in the work program issued by the National Youth Administration on January 3 of this year. At the request of NYA authorities in Washington, the A.L.A. passed the word on to librarians suggesting that they sponsor state-wide or local projects in line with the NYA recommendations.
Such projects are now under way or are in the process of organization in a number of states. Obviously it is too soon to know how much of permanent value will be accomplished for the spread of library service through youth activities. However, a brief report of what is being done or of what it is proposed to do through a few such projects [*] may serve to point out the possibilities of the plan, methods of procedure, and some of the difficulties which must be met.
In New York State fifty-four community libraries have been started and twenty more are in process of organization in rural areas never before served, according to a report of the state-wide NYA Rural Library Service project covering the period March 12--June 15. Two hundred and forty-three youths are provided with part-time employment through this project. The plan, as originally set up by its sponsor, the New York Library Extension Division, called for the assignment of nine youths in each county, with the exception of the three counties already served by county libraries. This goal has not yet been reached because of the difficulty in finding enough youths from relief families adapted to the work.
The project is in charge of a state supervisor of library service who is a trained and experienced librarian. Under her are ten district supervisors, two of them librarians, and the others chosen from various fields of social service work.
At the outset, this group met in a three-day conference at Albany with the director of the library extension division, the NYA assistant in rural projects, and several other library and rural education experts, as consultants. Two methods of giving employment to rural youth were planned through setting up library service in communities having no public library, and through placing youths in established libraries to enable these institutions to extend their services beyond their present limits. One of the first activities decided upon was a state-wide book collection campaign for which methods were carefully outlined and poster material prepared.
The district supervisors have organized in their counties NYA library advisory committees to sponsor book collection campaigns, and to assume responsibility for developing the project in their counties. It is also hoped by this method to build up community interest so that service will be continued when the NYA ceases to function.
The result of book collection campaigns has been good, books have been carefully weeded, and pamphlet, picture, and magazine material collected and made available. Book collections have been supplemented from the stock of the library extension division. In general the young people employed are keenly interested, and the communities served are making good use of facilities offered.
NYA FUNDS FOR BOOKS
In Illinois, an NYA project sponsored by the secretary of state, in his capacity as state librarian, and in immediate charge of the executive secretary in charge of state aid distribution, will make it possible to circulate books to rural schools in five WPA districts. This project will supplement community service to adults and children already being given through a WPA project which has been in progress for some time under the immediate direction of the library extension division of the Illinois State Library, also sponsored by the secretary of state. Over $4,000 has been secured from NYA funds to purchase the needed books. It is encouraging to see that the NYA in at least one state recognizes the fact that donated books do not make an adequate library collection and that book resources of state library agencies are not unlimited.
A professionally trained librarian is acting as supervising librarian for the state NYA project. Each of the five districts served has a supervising librarian for the district. All but one of these are trained librarians, and that one works in the district in which the office of the state supervising librarian is located, and so has the benefit of her constant help.
More than 500 young people are employed in developing library service in Mississippi counties in cooperation with the state-wide WPA project which has been in progress for some time. Supervision of these projects, formerly given by the Mississippi Library Commission, is now handled directly by the state WPA office through the addition to its staff of an experienced library supervisor, the former commission secretary.
REGIONAL PROJECTS IN COLORADO
Turning from state sponsored to regional projects, and continuing westward, an interesting example is found in Colorado. To six counties, comprising the WPA district in which Denver is located, extension service will be made available from the Denver Public Library with the aid of eighty-five NYA workers. The original plan of attempting to develop separate county libraries has been abandoned because a study revealed that most of them were financially unable to support independent library service.
Instead, the regular extension facilities of the Denver library will be extended to residents of these counties in two ways: through the regular $2 a year non-resident card, which entitles the holder to ten books at a time drawn from the entire library collection (this service has been available but not advertised); and through a special $1 nonresident card, which entitles the holder to ten books at a time, to be selected from the limited collection now being set aside for the NYA project. These cards may be purchased by individuals or groups. If a club raises $20, for example, a collection of 200 books would be put in a community as a deposit station, and under some circumstances a youth worker would be put in the community to help. This method may lead to the development of service to these counties, or to communities in these counties, from the Denver Public Library on a contract basis. Since Denver is the regional center and the library is already in many ways a library for the region, service by contract to neighboring counties seems logical as the next step.
A member of the regular staff of the Denver Public Library has been released for a year to supervise the NYA project. The University of Denver has lent the project adequate office space across the street from the library. At first the NYA workers were given necessary experience in the Denver library and have prepared the room and books to be used in the NYA service.
Another Colorado project centers in Weld County, where $16,000 has been set aside by the NYA to pay young people from relief families to help circulate books to rural residents in the region. For some years the local chapter of the A.A.U.W. and other groups have been giving some rural service with unpaid workers and donated books. The Greeley Public Library has furnished headquarters space and, more recently, assistance through WPA workers assigned to it and is now sponsoring the NYA project to this and neighboring counties. A full-time library supervisor is in immediate charge. The chief difficulty has been to secure enough suitable books.
On August 5, a delegation of more than 125 people, representing every corner of the county, called on the county board at Greeley to ask for an appropriation of 1,000 for books. This would make possible the part-time employment of from 135 to 150 young people in community library centers, the Greeley librarian stated. The delegation was cordially received. Budget action cannot be taken until December, however. At the suggestion of one commissioner a proposal for a one-mill tax levy for the county library will be placed on the ballot at the next election. Because of the widespread interest in the NYA library project, a successful outcome is anticipated.
A MAJOR DIFFICULTY
The provision of adequate book stock seems to be the major difficulty in most NYA rural library service projects, as it is in similar projects under WPA. The importance of trained supervision has been recognized by the sponsors of the several projects described. In two other states, where state library agency staffs are small, state workers report that they have had to refuse to sponsor state NYA library projects because they were unable to secure the assignment of a trained supervisor and could not, in fairness to their other work, undertake the supervision themselves.
Notes on NYA projects indicate that the selection of suitable workers from those eligible is often a problem. One librarian reports, however, that the NYA officials in her state have been most cooperative in attempting to assign satisfactory youths and in removing to less exacting projects those who have proved to be unsuited.
* The projects described were chosen both because of their interest and because specific information on them was available. Reports of other NYA rural library projects will be welcomed at A.L.A. Headquarters.