Blog Post: History of Traveling Libraries

pic “… here she’ll come, right through the rain and fog and cold.”  Sounds like the postman honor code of ethics, doesn’t it?  This quote is from a wonderful children’s story titled, That Book Woman by Heather Henson.  It was a fictionalized story of one of the Pack Horse Librarians, who were known as “Book Women” in the Appalachian mountains of Kentucky.  These librarians, mostly woman, made the trip every 2 weeks on horseback no matter the weather to bring books to remote regions.  In the end, the boy who didn’t want to read, learned how, and discovered a whole world outside of his own small one—all because the book woman refused to be stopped, no matter the weather or if she was welcomed, tired or hungry.  I love this particular story.

Wyoming had its own “Book Woman.”  Her name was Mable (Mabel) Wilkinson (  She was hired in 1916 to visit every village and post office in Platte County.  According to the Wyoming State Library, “Miss Wilkinson did all her traveling on “Joker,” a horse described as a “young bay, sound in wind and limb… who had never done a mean thing so far… who winked at her and showed his teeth.” She rode across trackless prairie, encountering bad weather, snakes and varmints, and all of the people who give Wyoming its color and its vitality.  The tour was a success; people everywhere were hungry for a chance to read in a place where books and newspapers were passed from hand to hand until they fell to pieces.”

We have this beautiful library, and there are others all around the world who don’t have similar resources. Do we still need these kinds of librarians?  What about bookmobiles?  Our bookmobile travels 350-400 miles each month and visits 775 patrons.  Some of you will remember the old bookmobile.  Did you know that it had three engines and untold miles on it? We are expecting our new bookmobile to last equally as long! Around the world, there are camel bookmobiles, elephant libraries, biblioburros and people willing to carry books on their backs!

I read an interesting article in the Global Citizen:  (a website dedicated to spreading information about places with needs and how they are being met) that explained how many of the libraries and schools were destroyed during a war in Afghanistan.  Saber Hussaini, a teacher, saw a great need for education and for books to be distributed.  Collecting donations from his friends, he attached a box to his bicycle and started taking books around to children in the war-torn cities.  He started with 200 books, and now he has 3,500, and continues to share his bicycle library.

Each time he visits a community, Saber speaks to the children about an important topic. He most commonly speaks of peace, the dangers of drugs, and the need for tolerance between people with different beliefs or cultures.  He says, “A library is more than just a pile of books; it is also a community of individuals willing to learn and discuss and grow.”

The Book Women of Kentucky, Mabel Wilkinson of Wyoming, Saber Hussaini of Afghanistan and many other librarians around the world, in all modes of transportation, agree that it is worth whatever cost carry books to children around the world.

~Retired Reference Librarian, Sharon Mikesell.