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Bulletin of the American Library Association

    Publishing Information

    WPA and Rural Libraries
    Edward A. Chapman

  1. AT THE present time, there are 18,000 men and women working on Works Progress Administration library projects in 38 states, New York City and the District of Columbia, under the national direction of Mrs. Ellen S. Woodward, assistant administrator of the WPA. In addition, some 12,000 persons work on book repair projects, largely for school libraries but also for public libraries and other public agencies in 36 states.

  2. WPA library projects may operate as individual projects or as state-wide projects. In the latter, the service is under the supervision of a trained state staff and may extend into all parts of the state. In the first type of project, thc service is confined to one library, and, because of operating restrictions, the project can support little or no technical supervision. The state-wide projects best serve the interests of rural library extension. Although the scope of their activity is generally over the whole field of public library service, emphasis is placed upon service to new areas.

  3. Rather than present a tabular report of the number of new units of rural service, the number of books circulated, and other statistical data of accomplishment for projects over the whole country, it seems better to note the experience of three WPA library programs in relation to their operation, implication, and effectiveness in each of three states. In all, there are over a dozen states employing state-wide WPA projects in aid of library service, with varying success.

  4. Two of the projects considered are organized on a state-wide basis. The third is organized by county and embraces about twenty counties. In the order mentioned, the states are South Carolina, Ohio, and Kentucky. These states present a contrasting picture economically and geographically. Per capita wealth ranges from a figure high in the U.S. average to one far less. Communication and transportation facilities vary from the best found in the middle west to mud roads, mountain trails, and creek bottoms. Existing library services range from the relatively high average, computed for the group of states comprising Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, to the almost absolute zero in southeastern Kentucky. Thus all known difficulties and some unknown to usual rural library service are present to exercise to the utmost the ingenuity of an extension librarian.

  5. Briefly, the technical and administrative organization of the South Carolina state-wide WPA library project includes a state supervisor, library trained and experienced, and a staff of four district supervisors, not all trained, but with a modicum of practical experience. Each district supervisor directs operation in about eleven counties and controls a group of four technical advisers, each of whom has a definite field of activity. One is charged with public library extension or county library organizing and operation; one is in charge of book repair; one is concerned with library publicity; and one directs the work with rural school libraries. For each county, there is a county supervisor concerned only with reports personnel timekeeping, and other purely administrative matters.

  6. Control over the technical staff is effected through regular staff meetings or "institutes" conducted by the state supervisor. At these meetings, plans for uniform operation and standard work procedures are promulgated. Outlines of manuals of procedure for supervisors and workers are studied and assignments toward the final compilations are made. The same method is followed by district supervisors in the instruction of relief workers.


  7. With but three satisfactory county library systems operating with five bookmobiles at the beginning of 1936, South Carolina now is served by county library systems in 40 of its 46 counties, and 36 book trucks are on the road. Thirty-one of the trucks are largely subsidized by WPA which rents the car chassis, with the special bodies necessary being supplied from local funds. Numerous new reading rooms and book stations established in small communities and schools are serviced by the bookmobiles, which also give a direct service almost amounting to house-to-house routing in sparsely settled counties.

  8. Without carefully laid plans, initially, present library service in South Carolina would not have been so hopeful. The first step was to develop, county by county, a citizen interest in the library service project. The library project supervisors, aided by local WPA supervisors, personally interviewed local organizations and outstanding local citizens, presenting the proposed inception of county library service. As a result, in county after county, a citizens library movement was built. County citizens library committees were formed with subcommittees in each small community.


  9. The value of this organization to the development of library service in South Carolina has been incalculable. Apart from creating a consciousness for books and reading, the committees were largely instrumental in raising the contributions for bookmobile bodies and every day are discovering sources of income for buying new books. It is not uncommon for borrowers to bring in produce to be marketed for the money it will bring for books. The strongest supporters in the popular movement were, and are, the organizations of farm women. Because of the insistence of rural women and the citizens committees, many county appropriating bodies are beginning to give partial support from local tax sources to the WPA organized county libraries. The activity of the county citizens library committees, the indorsement and aid of various groups, and the ever expanding demand of new readers insure the continuance of this library service aided by WPA. Plans are now being made by the state supervisor of the project to consolidate the county citizens committees into a formal state-wide organization of Friends of Libraries.

  10. Like many new movements, this drive for library service for all might have failed in the beginning but for the nucleus of new and attractive books supplied by WPA. Without these books, the demonstration would have been so hampered that any favorable sentiment created by promised advantages in organized extension work would have been destroyed. As it is, the books circulated in conjunction with existing local collections are whetting reading appetites to the point where more and permanent service is imperatively demanded. It is upon this theory that the project operates--to demonstrate the desirability and need for complete library service.


  11. At present, there arc available about 16,000 new books purchased with WPA funds. In no sense are these books a mere donation. As consideration for the use of WPA books, communities give money for books and other reading materials, in order to make present service more complete. They also work constantly toward obtaining more and more county funds for permanent service establishment.

  12. WPA maintains a central depository of its books in Columbia, where the state supervisor of the project has control over their use and distribution. For example, a substantial number of new WPA books are being used to hasten the complete organization of a county system in one of the wealthiest counties in the state. In addition, a consignment of books is being sent into another section of the state economically not so fortunate, to demonstrate two regional set-ups. One unit of six counties is being served by one bookmobile and another two-county region is being served by another. The existing book resources in the counties joining in the two-county demonstration are being pooled for the common use of both.

  13. Another significant demonstration on the state-wide WPA project is a complete library service to the Negro population in Greenville County. This started in April, 1938, with a separate book truck and separate book collection. It is the first direct extension service to adult Negroes in the county and the first regular service to Negro schools. Heretofore, the trucks for service to whites were assigned for service to Negroes at infrequent intervals.

  14. Book service, advisory service to school and public libraries, organization of logical and economical units, and the creation of citizen interest and backing in the movement for adequately supported libraries throughout South Carolina, are activities in which the project supervisors are concerned. Further, the hope and intention is that the work of the project will help the state library board to assume its intended functions with an adequate operating budget.


  15. The Ohio State Library has been sponsoring a state-wide WPA library project since January of this year. This project, too, is being operated to demonstrate that approved plans for the extension of library services are practical. Supervision of the project is much the same as in South Carolina except that it is less elaborate. There is the library trained state supervisor, assisted by six library trained district supervisors, each of whom is responsible for work done in each of the six districts of the state.

  16. Briefly, the approved state-wide library plan involves (1) county unit service where possible income can assure permanency, and (2) regional unit service over two or more counties where individual incomes can never the sufficient. The methods of service include the establishment of branches and stations and the use of book trucks, depending upon rural population distribution, topography, and ability or inability to provide local support for a library unit. Established libraries have been designated as logical centers for county and regional set-ups. The motive of the whole plan is to render library service on an effective, equitable, and economical basis.


  17. Since it is not legally possible now to designate regional library service to operate over two or more counties, the WPA project, supplying additional personnel, is being used to develop this plan. The success of regional experimentation will be used to back the introduction of a regional library amendment to existing library laws. during the next meeting of the Ohio legislature. Specifically, Scioto and Pike counties are being joined to furnish the first demonstration.

  18. Since public libraries in Ohio are obliged to give county service, WPA is supplying the additional personnel to man the new units needed. Because of the increased demands for reading created as a result, the appropriation for library support in one county jumped from $3000 to $13,000 per year.

  19. As an example, the county library demonstration in Perry County is mentioned. Of the two public libraries in this county, it is felt that the New Lexington Public Library at the county seat is the logical center for permanent county library service. Most of the county tax proceeds are being given to this library from which extension service will be given. Four small villages have been chosen for the establishment of one reading room in each. In the remaining villages, there will be deposit stations and school collections, all supplied by the New Lexington center. The reading rooms established in the four larger villages will operate as branches, each maintaining a small basic reference collection with books for circulation supplied from New Lexington. The State-Wide WPA library project is forwarding this experiment by supplying a trained librarian to supervise the service, and by staffing the branches with selected WPA clerks who will work under the close direction of the supervisor.


  20. This arrangement reveals an advantage of the state-wide type of project over the small individual library project. According to project requirements, not more than 5 per cent of the total personnel employed on a given project can be non-relief supervisors. On the large project employing from 300 to 1000 workers, the 5 per cent regulation represents a large measure of professional direction.

  21. One last example of the help being given by WPA in the furtherance of permanent library services is the case of a book trailer which was being operated by private effort and funds. The sponsors of this service were a public spirited citizen, the Y.W.C.A., and a trained librarian who gave her services free. This successful service was about to be discontinued because of the lack of public support when WPA offered its aid. Not only did WPA supply a trained librarian to carry on this rural service, but also assigned necessary clerical help to assist the supervisor. In short, the increased success of the privately started service drew the attention of the outstanding public library in the county which previously had supplied some books for the service. The library has now bought a $4000 book truck and is supplying an additional quantity of books for permanent county service.

  22. Other examples of significant developments in rural library service, aided by the Ohio WPA state-wide library project, could be given. Mr. Paul A. T. Noon, state librarian of Ohio, has made this comment: "We expect that the state-wide library project in Ohio coordinated with our state aid program will advance library development, especially in the rural sections, at least ten years ahead of its normal development."


  23. Southeastern Kentucky, cut across by the Appalachian Mountain ranges, is the locale of a rural library service experiment, called "Pack-horse library service,'! operating under the most unfavorable topographical and social conditions, and with reasonable success. The Kentucky WPA, without sustained technical advice and supervision, is conducting this pioneering library extension service in an unusual manner because the unique factors of the mountain country do not permit the usual and orthodox approach in library extension work. Not only total unawareness of library service has to be overcome, but also the people's general distrust of any outside help must be dispelled. An equally great difficulty is faced in the matter of communication and transportation.

  24. Before the inception of the WPA packhorse libraries in some twenty mountain counties of Kentucky, there was almost no library service except in the larger centers of population, and here the libraries were mainly church and club libraries, privately subsidized. Generally, economic conditions were and are so poor that county appropriating bodies cannot support public library service even if so inclined. In most of the counties, too, the population distribution is so thin that there are very few reasonably sized concentration centers. Homes are widely scattered over the mountainsides and through the valleys, with access to them particularly difficult. Paths, trails, roughly cut roads, the better of which are called "haul" roads because a wagon can be used on them at times, and river and creek beds are the designated and recognized means of communication. Vehicular travel, then, is almost entirely impossible through this section of Kentucky, except on the United States highways leading to the south. Not only are there those topographical obstacles to library extension service! but also the previously indicated hostility toward any outside influences must be broken. Although most of the mountain folk are eager to learn new facts, this hostility might block any intended extension work, if native mountain workers were not used in the pack-horse service. It is problematical whether the acceptance of free library service would have been as widespread as it now is, in the mountains, if the WPA pack-horse library carriers had not been native women, familiar with the social usages of the section. This extension program has been and still is, largely, a house-to-house selling campaign, with substantial help afforded by word-of-mouth endorsement of the service to neighbors by families whose resistance to and distrust of "foreign" help has been overcome. Those who have once accepted this necessarily very limited library service are staunch in their support and regular in their demands for more reading.

  25. The distribution of reading materials is accomplished by having a central pool of books supply a number of stations from which the "carriers" travel by horse, mule, and foot into the surrounding mountains for a radius of eight to ten miles. The station deposits are changed twice monthly. Because of the limited amount of suitable and demanded reading, circulation is generally limited to one week, with one book or magazine to a reader, and usually not more than three pieces to a family. When families are relatively close to each other and friendly, the carrier arranges for an interchange of books and magazines between themselves during the week of circulation.


  26. The available book stock has been obtained almost entirely through donation. Besides a local publicity campaign, metropolitan newspapers, magazines, and radio are used to bring in material from many distant points. As can be expected, a great portion of these donated books is scarcely suitable or usable. Curiously enough, however, there are certain worth while but out-dated materials received which would be considered worthless in an average public library, but which are serving a need in this part of Kentucky, not financially able to buy new books and replace the old. Back numbers of magazines form the greater part of these donations. The few new books obtained are purchased with money raised from pie and box suppers and from other local social gatherings. The parent-teacher association and some few other organizations raise limited amounts for the same purpose. Because of a seriously curtailed operating budget, the state library extension division can supply to each county unit of the WPA pack-horse library very few books from its traveling library collection.

  27. It has been discovered that novels in general will not be read. The objection to this type of fiction seems to have beef carried over from a time when the reading of novels was considered "sinful" by the progenitors of these mountain folk. The, do, however, take pleasure in reading the tales laid in their section of the country and in stories of the cowboy west.

  28. The supply of religious books, notably, the Bible, religious tracts and stories, Sunday school papers, and Bible pictures, are in constant circulation. Every source of free material of this nature is being solicited for additional pamphlets, folders, and pictures to help meet the large and steady religious reading desires of these mountain people.


  29. Magazines with illustrations are particularly sought. Magazines of a practical and mechanical nature are in greatest demand, however. The most desired of the magazines of this type is Popular Mechanics, which is used as a guide in the making of various useful articles. The circulation of periodicals is about two and one-half times that of books.

  30. Non-fiction titles, at the proper reading level, are also in demand. These people, long without anything faintly resembling library service, are hungry for factual information. It follows, then, that library service in this area of Kentucky can automatically assume the character of an educational program. Biography and description of places and things which are not locally familiar particularly hold attention.

  31. By far the greatest demand is in the field of juvenile reading. Not only children but many adults without adequate primary education find much enjoyment and reading training in the large letter type of book. The supply is not nearly satisfying the need here. Old school readers of any vintage are readily circulated. Thousands of "scrapbooks" of children's stories and pictures cut from magazines are made. Even newspaper stories for children are cut out and mounted, with the line pictures filled in with colored crayon. These are gratefully received and read out of their cardboard binders. In the majority of the mountain cabins, even so common a medium of reading as a newspaper is mulled over for days and read from the headlines through the back sheet, date of issue notwithstanding.

  32. In spite of several points of objection, the Kentucky pack-horse libraries should receive commendation for their pioneering experimentation in an almost untouched and certainly unfamiliar area. Obviously, the form of the service is entirely too expensive to operate on local budgets. It is difficult to visualize by what other method this almost uniformly necessary door-to-door service could be rendered. As the WPA library service develops perhaps the answer may eventually he given. At present the mechanical operation of each county project would be benefited by some measure of technical supervision and advice, a need fully recognized by the state WPA officers. The projects, operating as they do, with little cash for increase and improvement of book stock or for simple operating necessities, seem to be creating an interest in reading materials which might not have been expected in the magnitude revealed. Informed only by word of mouth, people in neighboring counties without a pack-horse library project are asking for book service. One family is reported to have declined to move to an adjoining county when it was found that no "book lady" would visit them in that county. In large families it has been noticed that the father or mother reads aloud, surrounded by the children, since there are not enough books for all.

  33. There are other sections of the United States similar to southeastern Kentucky, where the basic and fundamental conception of the value and need of library service can be tested and demonstrated. Although the operation of the Kentucky WPA pack-horse library service is technically faulty in several respects, it is supplying concrete proof of the desire for books and the need for supplying them.

  34. With all libraries in a given state joining in the planned utilization of a statewide WPA library project similar to those here briefly described, a citizen interest in libraries and a demand for service could be developed beyond that ever thought possible. Well supervised WPA assistance may be the forerunner of a country-wide library movement of immeasurable social significance.