Flag of Kansas

KGI Online Library

The Kansas Government Information (KGI) Online Library
Kansas government publications, resources and information available from the State Library of Kansas

View All Posts

Jun 12

Traveling Libraries. Part 1: "Books--Blessed Books"

Posted on June 12, 2020 at 8:46 PM by Bill Sowers

Part 1: Traveling Libraries: Books-Blessed Books
written by Donna Casement, State Library of Kansas


(Full digitized copies of articles and Biennial Reports cited here can be found at KGI ONLINE LIBRARY)

In an article entitled, “Relation of the Traveling Library to the Farmer’s Home”, Annie L. Diggs, state librarian wrote, “Of all the good gifts wrought for us and brought to us by this “time-spirit”, none serve us in more soul-satisfying ways than books-blessed books. Whoever has found comfort and counsel in books is straightway possessed of a desire to share the pleasure with others. This beautiful impulse to share has found expression in our own time and country in an enterprise which in the last years has taken on the name of the traveling library.” (#1-Kansas Farmer, February 7, 1901)

“Traveling Libraries are among the possibilities in Kansas in the not distant future. In fact, they may be classed among the possibilities, for the club women of Kansas have taken hold of the matter, and women, as a rule, get what they go after” was the lead paragraph in a Topeka paper that interviewed Mrs. J. C. McClintock, president of the Kansas Social Science Federation concerning the traveling libraries. When she was asked in the article to define “traveling libraries” she said, “We found, in organizing new clubs throughout the state, that the greatest obstacle to organization was the lack of literature. This is particularly true in interior towns, where there are no circulating libraries.” (#2-Kansas Farmer and Mail and Breeze, Topeka, April 22, 1898)

Diggs described the establishment of the traveling library in her biennial report, 1899-1900. The Kansas Federation of Clubs, led by Mrs. Lucy B. Johnson, of Topeka, laid the groundwork beginning in 1897. Her federation gathered several hundred volumes, through donations and monetary contributions. The books were cataloged and sent out to various communities. They lobbied members of the legislature which resulted in a law creating a traveling libraries commission. (Twelfth Biennial Report of the State Librarian of Kansas, 1899-1900, Annie Diggs State Librarian)

“The traveling library bill which passed, set up a three-person board, along with the state librarian, Annie Diggs, and the president of the State Social Science Federation who would take charge of the traveling libraries. The board would select a secretary who shall also be an assistant librarian and receive a salary. The traveling library would be selected from the miscellaneous books of the state library and no reference books would be selected. Presently there are about 10,000 books in the miscellaneous collection.” (#3-The Topeka State Journal, January 31, 1899)

When the traveling libraries commission assumed control of the project, 3,000 books and thirty-four cases were donated to the state by the social science federation. Entire libraries of fifty books each had been donated to the federation. “There are now 115 libraries out over the state on their mission of helpfulness, and there are twenty-five orders on file which cannot for the present be filled on account of lack of funds to purchase books and cases. The largest number of applications come from rural communities and sparsely settled sections of the state, where there are no public libraries, and from country schools.” (Twelfth Biennial Report of the State Librarian of Kansas, 1899-1900, Annie Diggs, State Librarian)

The first annual report of the Kansas Traveling Library Commission was filed by State Librarian Annie Diggs and J. L. King in 1900. The report showed 5,565 books in the traveling library and 117 cases. “Each case of fifty books has on average twenty readers and the total number of people reached during 1900 by the libraries is estimated at 16,800. The libraries went to 170 communities with fees equally $340 and $5.75 was donated to the project. Expenses were $264.63 and at the end of the year there was $81.12 as a balance in the treasury.” (#4-The Topeka Daily Capital, December 21, 1900)

Some people were suspicious of the use of traveling libraries. “Every little while some newspaper in Kansas sneers at the traveling library. Not long since the Atchison Globe made facetious inquiry as to the purpose of the traveling library, and intimated that there was concealed somewhere in the scheme a graft to mulct the taxpayers. It is quite possible that the traveling library is an unimportant institution to towns and communities, that have access to free libraries, and where current literature has wide dissemination. But the fact remains that the state of Kansas never spent money to greater advantage to the isolated rural community and country home than when it put a few paltry thousands of dollars into the traveling library scheme.” (#5-The Topeka Daily Capital, April 9, 1902)

The Daily Capital went on to describe the specifics for acquiring a library. “There are fifty books in a traveling library, divided in the proper proportion between history, biography, scientific works and fiction. The only requisite necessary to secure a traveling library is a request from any resident of a community who is properly vouched for. Any school board may secure a library for its district upon request. The only condition beyond this is that the party asking for the books send $2 to cover freight charges each way. The library has now books sufficient for 170 traveling libraries. Libraries can be kept for six months.”

In 1904, Miss Nellie G. Armentrout was the assistant state librarian and served as secretary of the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission. Armentrout explained, “One should understand that traveling libraries are not experimental. Other states have tried the system with generally good success and now there are no fewer than thirty-three states that have traveling libraries. But for the length of time the system has been in operation in Kansas, it must be observed that their growth and influence has been truly remarkable.” (#6-Wichita Daily Eagle, September 18, 1904)

In Armentrout’s third biennial report she states, “There is probably no department of the state which has been run on so economical a basis, it having had, until recently, no rooms or equipment of its own, outside of books and trunks for shipment. On the 20 th of June of the present year, the department was moved into spacious rooms on the basement floor of the capitol, south wing, west side. It occupied until then a small room on the second floor, a part of the state library. (#7-The Topeka Daily Capital, December 31, 1904)

Eighteen months ago, there were 10,059 books in the possession of the Traveling Libraries Commission. Since then there have been added 5,021 volumes which makes a total of 15,080 now in use. During this time there have been sent to the various communities of the state a total of 401 libraries, an increase of fifty-five libraries in eighteen months over the circulation of 346 libraries during the two years preceding this report.” (Third Biennial Report of the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission, 1902-1904)

“The Traveling Library Notes” describes various communities and their thankfulness for the use of the libraries. “The Sigournean club at Winfield sends us the following report-As a member of the club I wish to thank you for the care with which you selected our books for the past winter’s course. They were so helpful to us and I feel that each member has been especially benefitted by the use of the library. We are looking forward with a great deal of pleasure to our books for the coming year.” (#8-The Topeka Daily Herald, May 1, 1905)

In 1907, the legislature passed an act to transfer the Aplington Art Gallery, donated by Kate A. Aplington of Council Grove, from the Kansas Federation of Women’s Clubs to the Kansas Libraries Commission to be part of the traveling collections. The carbon photographic reproductions of world-famous paintings were valued at $1,500. (Sixteenth Biennial Report of the State Librarian of Kansas, 1907-1908, James L. King, State Librarian)

“The Kansas Traveling Commission is now prepared to send traveling art galleries to schools, clubs, and other Kansas organizations desiring them. Each collection consists of fifty or more reproductions (in exhibition size) of the world’s greatest paintings, numbered and matted for hanging, with explanatory notes attached. A printed lecture and suitable books accompany each gallery, giving a review of the school of art to which it belongs and the characteristics of the several painters represented. More than ninety towns in Kansas have already profited by these exhibits.” (#9-The Kansas Weekly Capital, Topeka, November 28, 1907)

In 1909, the Kansas Traveling Libraries celebrated its tenth year of existence, “Just ten years ago the Legislature of Kansas passed a law establish the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission and made an appropriate for its support. Today the commission owns 425 trunks and 30,000 volumes, about 20,000 of which are now in circulation in the state. No appropriation which the legislature makes reaches so many people in every part of the state.” A letter from a Farmers’ Union in Downs is a sample of the way in which the books are received: “The books arrived in time. We are greatly pleased with them and expect to receive pleasure from them as well as help. We hardly know how to thank you for this great privilege and with your consent we will recommend the library to other unions as we have several in the county.” (#10-Kansas Farmer, March 27, 1909)

For more than 60 years the people of Kansas held in high regard the services of the traveling libraries. In part 2 of this series, the traveling libraries will adapt and serve its constituents through pandemics, economic depression, world wars and establish the urgent need for community libraries throughout Kansas.