Hard Times and Opportunities: Lessons Learned from the Pack Horse Librarians
Libraries everywhere are feeling the pinch from the nationwide economic slowdown. Whether it is cuts in journal subscriptions or cuts in staff, the changes wrought by these extenuating circumstances will have longstanding effects on how libraries operate. The Great Depression is invoked in the media as the last comparable event to have such far-reaching effects on our nation and society. Libraries and librarians from that era in our nation’s history operated in a different atmosphere, but faced similar challenges in trying to maintain services despite poor funding. A Works Progress Administration (WPA) program from the Great Depression era – called “The Pack Horse Librarians”-- provided books and magazines to schools and residences in the remote areas of Appalachia. The circumstances those intrepid librarians faced offer some useful parallels to today’s situation. Beyond just bringing reading materials, the pack horse librarians also brought news of births and deaths in the community and even brought medicine to sick people. Pack horse librarians were intimately connected to the rural communities, and those connections helped add value to library services. The pack horse librarians also used their novel mode of travel to reach out to those who were not currently receiving materials. Similarly, libraries today are trying to seek out new users and forge connections that positively affect those users’ lives. This presentation will explore the lessons we can learn from the pack horse librarians and how those lessons can be translated into today’s library world.
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