September 6, 2017
The Book Women: Librarians who delivered books on horseback
by Stephanie DeLuca
Way before Amazon started delivering books via flying robots (that’s how it works, right?), Depression-era women librarians were delivering books by horseback in the secluded mountains of Kentucky.
The Pack Horse Library was part of the Works Progress Administration, a program created by President Franklin Roosevelt to help America recover from the Great Depression. Meant to encourage literacy while simultaneously creating jobs, it was fueled by an almost-all-female staff of librarians who rode, according to a recent article by Anika Burgess in Atlas Obscura, “100 to 120 miles a week, on their own horses or mules, along designated routes, regardless of the weather. If the destination was too remote even for horses, they dismounted and went on foot.” That’s even more impressive than same-day delivery.
Known as the Book Women, this girl gang eventually grew to nearly 1,000 horseback riding librarians. Not only did they deliver books, they were also essential members of the community: “They tried to fill book requests, sometimes stopped to read to those who couldn’t, and helped nurture local pride. As one recipient said, ‘Them books you brought us has saved our lives.’” Not all superheroes wear capes.
Head on over to Atlas Obscura to check out some striking photos of the Book Women at work, and be sure to thank your local librarian for all they do. Maybe they didn’t ride a horse to work today, but they have kept the tradition of functioning as a community hub alive and well into these modern times.
Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.