I was doing some spring cleaning this weekend — OK, so I’m running about 6 months late — when I found an old, fragile copy of The Bobbsey Twins at School, published in 1913. I think I got it after my grandmother died. On the contents page, it said:
W.P.A. DISTRICT No. 4
PACK HORSE LIBRARY
“W.P.A.” is short for Works Progress Administration, later the Works Project Administration, a federal jobs programs created in 1935 during the depths of the Great Depression.
I did a little digging and found a book called Cut Down Shin Creek: The Pack Horse Libraries of Kentucky, by Kathi Appelt and Jeanne Cannella Schmitzer. It turns out that the Pack Horse Library project of eastern Kentucky – and it was definitely a Kentucky thing — is considered one of the WPA’s most innovative programs. They say it was aimed at creating jobs for women.
Riding horses or mules, “the book women” might travel 80 miles a week up creek beds and foot paths to reach families who otherwise might not have had access to books (see picture below). The project lasted until 1943.
It’s easy these days to take books for granted.
In fact, one of the reasons we’re doing all this spring cleaning is because we have too many books. Our bookshelves are full, and there’s a growing stack of books in the floor by every bookcase and on the floor by the bed and in the closet. (There are none in the garage or attic, because it’s too humid here in Tennessee.)
If I want a book they don’t have at Barnes & Noble or the library, I’ll buy it online, and a UPS truck will deliver it a few days later. If the price is right, I’ll just download it.
I wonder what “the book women” would have thought about that.