Eastern Kentucky’s Pack Horse Library Project was a shining light during dark times in America. With the country mired in the depths of the Great Depression, U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration with the intent to help bolster the economic stability of the nation. A literate population was an employable population, and it was on that concept the Pack Horse Library was created. With the WPA’s financial backing, librarians, almost all of whom were women, began hand-delivering used and donated reading materials across the rugged terrain of Appalachia while saddled up on horses and mules.
Within a year of its formation in 1935, the women of the Pack Horse Library initiative were reaching 50,000 families and later approximately 155 schools. Old newspapers and magazines were re-purposed by librarians as ‘best of’ scrapbook content, with collections glued together under specific themes. By the end of its run in 1943 nearly 1,000 horse-riding librarians delivering books across 29 counties had been employed by the program. Despite dangerous terrain and long hours, the ladies of the Pack Horse Library Project made only $28 a month, or roughly $495 in today’s dollars.
By the mid-1940s bookmobiles were slowly beginning to appear on Kentucky roads, and today the original spirit of book delivery by horse lives on in Kentucky’s nation-leading 75 bookmobiles still in service.
Story by Jay Moon