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Curious about the Friends of the Library origin story?


Our bookstore, from time to time, has carried both of these titles: The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. Both titles utilize Kentucky and The Pack Horse Library Initiative as the backdrop for their stories. It's about the amazing women I talk about below. This blog post is PART ONE of a Three-Part Series. I hope you enjoy.

Lately, I have been asking Professor Google a lot of questions. Such as, how and when did the Friends of the Library even begin? To start, the Friends of the Library are all over the country. They are non-profit groups, like ours, who help boost the library it is attached to such as our own Boca Raton Public Library. Enter our library and notice the furniture, the book sale room, and even the technology. All of these features and amenities are enhanced by the Friends of the Library.


Who doesn't like an origin story? We are living in a time where we get to watch all of these Marvel and DC Comic stories. My personal favorite is the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy. (The first movie is a tad long-winded but the second with the late Heath Ledger and the third, with Tom Hardy as Bane are just chef's kiss great.)


The origin story of the Friends begins with The Pack Horse Library Initiative. If this is a confusing statement, please, allow me to explain. This will be the first part of a 3-part blog series.


The Initiative was implemented during the Great Depression as a result of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's attempts at reforming the nation's economy. True story: The Social Security Administration was also created during this time. FDR's Great Deal created the Works Progress Administration, or the WPA, the first of the reform programs implemented solely for women. The women who worked for the WPA tended to be single, widowed, or married with absent or disabled husbands.


Under the WPA, the Initiative had women stride out in horses and mules, to the deepest parts of Appalachia in Eastern Kentucky. Their saddlebags were to hold books and the focus was to disperse these books in order to elevate and educate those most affected during the Depression. And rural Kentucky was hard hit.


Imagine what these women faced. Their mission was to go into the deepest parts of the Appalachian trail where they found people to be aggressive, mistrustful, and unhappy. Acts of kindness were apparently not welcome there at first. The women rode on rocky trails, creeks, and steep paths, meaning, danger lurked around every corner.


But eventually, these "mountain people" started to open up and allow the horseback-women to supply them with literature. Literacy was key. FDR aimed the Initiative to elevate education in this hard-hit area while the Initiative existed (1935 to 1943). History has preserved facts about this time. Children would cry out to these "book ladies" to bring them more books. The highest-requested book by adults was the Bible. Adults also requested instructive literature such as current events or history.


"The mountain people loved Mark Twain," says Kathi Appelt, who co-wrote a middle-grade book about the librarians with Schmitzer, in a 2002 radio interview. "One of the most popular books…was Robinson Crusoe.” Since so many adults could not read, she noted, illustrated books were among the most beloved. Illiterate adults relied on their literate children to help decipher them. (Press the link for The Smithsonian article.)


To be continued...



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