Thursday 5 October 2017

Heroic Librarians - Joan Lennon

As I snuffle and moan my way through another cold, lying in my bed of woe, I am reminded of the eloquence of Charles Lamb on a similar occasion.  But I am comforted by books, and so, as the day follows the night, I am grateful to librarians.

All librarians, everywhere, throughout history.  And, to choose just one group among them, I give you -

The Pack Horse Librarians 

A big, bony, rangy horse, a long-legged bob-haired woman, a jaunty hat, and a heroic mission.

During the Great Depression in the United States of America, there were some areas that were even worse hit than others, and the Appalachians was one of those.  As part of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), the government set up the Pack Horse Library Project, an initiative that hired women to take library books by horse or mule or by foot into the isolated, hard-to-reach farms and schools of rural Kentucky.*  They were paid about $28. a month.  They provided their own horses or mules, and carried approximately 100 books at a time deep into the mountains.

These Book Ladies were feeding a strong appetite for books and for literacy.  

"'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."  (Smithsonian Magazine)

As a contemporary reporter wrote:

"The intelligence of the Kentucky mountaineer is keen ... He grasped and clung to the Pack Horse Library idea with all the tenacity of one starved for learning." (Smithsonian Magazine)  

What was said about Postal Workers applies equally well to the Packsaddle Librarians, that "neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed these couriers" of reading who traveled several hundred miles a week over a 10,000 square mile area which was long on mountains and short on roads.  The project ran from 1935 to 1943, when the funding was stopped.  (You don't need me to point out any parallels.)

Across time, I have a link (perhaps tenuous but a link nonetheless) with the man stuck in bed with a shotgun wound all those years ago.  We're both thankful to the heroism (whether horse-related or not) of librarians - the way they have changed our lives for the better - and the irreplaceable comfort of books.

Librarians - we salute you.

* Not for nothing were there place names like Hell-for-Sartin Creek, Black Gnat, Cutshin and, er, Monkey's Eyebrow.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.


Susan Price said...

How amazing! These fearless librarians sound like something Terry Pratchett might have invented. What a job to have - out in the fresh air, a horse as a companion, plenty to read...

Sue Bursztynski said...

How wonderful! I'd never heard of it. And yes, Susan, it is Pratchett-esque. In fact, wandering librarians did appear in one of the Tiffany Aching books, Wintersmith. Maybe this is where he got the idea.

Translation and info: Who'd Have Thought?

Ann Turnbull said...

Wow! This is so inspiring, Joan. What a wonderful post.

Penny Dolan said...

Those are certainly impressive librarians! Brilliant post - and may you soon feel well enough to get back into your own saddle.

Leslie Wilson said...

What an inspiring story indeed, and yes, Sue, I agree about Terry Pratchett.

Sue Purkiss said...