The Tenacious Librarians of the Mountains

 How do you picture a librarian? Who I picture is the first librarian I knew. She was an old, small woman who had the biggest smile and warmest eyes. Even though I hated books, and even more reading, whenever I was dragged to the public library by Mom this librarian would give me the space I needed as an introvert. But after 15 or so minutes of me pretending to search for a book, she would walk over with one of those huge books with tons of pictures and short facts (mostly about dinosaurs). I would pour over those books, looking at timelines and how big the teeth were of each dinosaur.

Since then I have been fortunate enough to meet countless librarians from even more backgrounds. Each one however shared a certain quality; a tenacity to help people find information. It could be helping someone type in a Google search, or walk patiently with a child dancing through the shelves.

What happens though when your audience can’t come to the library? How do you stay tenacious as a librarian and help people find the information they need when they are nestled in isolated mountain communities?

A book woman entering town. Photo courtesy of  Kentucky Libraries and Archives.

A book woman entering town. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Libraries and Archives.

Waking up before sunrise, book women would ride from dawn till dusk serving the communities of Appalachia during the Great Depression. The idea was, since libraries were free, the government could help keep the minds of Americans’ sharp by bringing the knowledge directly to them. But it wasn’t a propaganda campaign. Communities would request certain materials such as building guides, cooking recipes, and even just the news.

Nearly 1,000 librarians, in any weather, for over a decade would ride 100-120 miles a week. But they didn’t just deliver the books. Often times they would stop to help teach people to read, or even stop by a classroom on the way out of town.

That tenacity still lives on today at your local public library. Even though your local librarians most likely don’t have to cross dozens of miles up slopes each day to help you, they will still embody the ‘book women’ with whatever you need help with.