Part 2-Traveling Libraries: Fifty Books, Six Months, $2
written by Donna Casement, State Library of Kansas
(Full digitized copies of material cited here can be found at KGI ONLINE LIBRARY)
“The Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission, an adjunct of the state library, is prepared to furnish small libraries for the use of schools, study clubs, literary societies, or other responsible organizations, upon proper application. The library contains fifty books each, and may be kept six months, absolutely free of expense, except the transportation fee of $2, to cover shipping charges to and from destination.” (#1-Marshall County News, Marysville, May 20, 1910)
In the early twentieth century, Kansas was a rural state. According to the 1910 federal census, the rural population stood at 1,197,159 or 70.8% of the state. Cities of 2,500 or more people comprised 29.2% with 493,790. The top five populated cities were Kansas City-82,331, Wichita-52,450, Topeka-43,664, Leavenworth-19,363 and Atchison had a population of 16,429. (1910, Twentieth Census, Department of Commerce and Labor Bureau of the Census)
By 1910, James L. King, the fourth and sixth librarian in the history of the nearly 50-year-old State Library of Kansas, was charged with the duties of a growing and popular Traveling Libraries Commission. The original purpose of the Traveling Libraries Commision was to provide reading services for rural areas and to encourage the establishment of libraries. The commission was established by law in 1899.
During 1910-1912, 55,300 books were circulated by the Traveling Libraries Commission. Reports from recipient communities showed that each case of 50 books had an average of 61 readers and an average circulation of all the loaned books was 367,192. There were 1,106 libraries who requested traveling trunks during that time frame.
“Eleven years of successful work has demonstrated the usefulness and value of the traveling libraries. An idea of their value to the public generally will be gained from the following extracts from recent reports: Wabaunsee reported, we hope our appreciation of the library is realized beyond expression of our thanks; Ravanna replied, the books have made many long hours short because of information and entertainment; Nortonville wrote, the books have encouraged the children to read. They have enjoyed them so much, and we are very grateful for their use.” (1908-1910, Sixth Biennial Report of the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission.)
Newton Free Library took advantage of the traveling libraries and received their second installment in late spring, 1900. Within their 50 books, 23 were popular juvenile selections that included Treasury of Fairy Tales, Motor Boys Across the Plains, and The Life of George Washington. (#2-Newton Kansan, May 19, 1910)
(1914-1916, Twentieth Biennial Report, State Librarian, James L. King, State Librarian)
In 1922, half of the 1,548 traveling library trunks sent out by the commission, went to rural schools. “Seventy-eight thousand books were sent out to rural communities in the state in answer to 1, 548 calls received by the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission during the two years ending June 1922. This means of getting books into farm homes compares favorably with the work of public libraries in serving the population of cities.” (#3-The Topeka Daily Capital, October 30, 1922)
Louise McNeal became the eighth state librarian in 1926. McNeal would shepherd the State Library of Kansas and the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission for 36 years. One of her first challenges would be to continue to provide reading services during the Great Depression, which began in the fall of 1929 and would devastate Kansas’ farm prices and employment opportunities.
The first issue of the Kansas Library Bulletin, published quarterly by the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission, was published in March 1932. The issue began with, “The American Library Association believes that the Depression offers a challenge to the public libraries of America. The book supply, reading-room space and personnel of libraries are being taxed now as never before because of the unprecedented numbers of readers and students. Economic insecurity breeds intellectual unrest, sending many thoughtful men and women to books.” (American Library Association Council Resolution, Kansas Library Bulletin, March 1932)
The 1930s saw a consistent demand for traveling libraries. Nearly 590,000 books were loaned through the traveling library to rural Kansas towns and cities. In January 1934, the Traveling Libraries Commission took part in the CWA (Civil Works Administration) project and continued through April 1934. The CWA was a limited job creation program established by the New Deal during the Great Depression. The Traveling Libraries Commission hired five assistants who were assigned to catalog and mend books. “The work accomplished was valuable to the library and we hope to continue in the coming biennium.” (1932-1934, Eighteenth Biennial Report of the Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission)
The Traveling Libraries continued to support several federal projects through the 1930s. In the biennial period of 1934-36, an average of seven workers were employed for 15 out of 24 months by the commission. They rebound 3,600 books and repaired, cleaned and lettered 58,000. Typists prepared duplicate lists for the 1,200 fifty-book collections and packed them for shipping. Clerical workers verified lists of returned 630 fifty-book libraries. “Through these projects, thousands of books have been reclaimed for circulation, the collection has been made more attractive, and better service to borrowers has been possible.” (1934-1936, Nineteenth Biennial Report of the Kansas Libraries Commission)
(1934-1936, Nineteenth Biennial Report, Kansas Traveling Libraries Commission)
During World War II, the Victory Book Campaign, 1942-1943, was a successful national campaign that collected nearly 17 million books for men in the armed forces. Kansas libraries received 49,485 books for the campaign of which 32,541 were considered suitable. (Kansas Library Bulletin, March 1942)
Many books went to Fort Riley, Fort Leavenworth, Camp Funston, Camp Whitside and to the U.S.O. Centers in Wichita and Manhattan. “A communication from the national USO headquarters received Wednesday by B. R. Jones, local USO director, stated it was anticipating that at least 2,000 books would be available for each of the two soldier centers in Manhattan. Manhattan is among the 50,000 collection states for books now functioning.” (#4-The Morning Chronicle, Manhattan, Kansas, February 5, 1942).
(Kansas Library Bulletin, September and December 1943)
During World War II, traveling library book loans were steady with biennial averages of about 118,000 books loaned to towns and cities. Public Library circulation was down, but post war plans for library development was encouraged by the American Library Association.
Miss Dorothy Comin, librarian at the Abilene Public Library, published an editorial in the September 1944 issue of the Kansas Library Bulletin entitled ‘At the Crossroads’. She wrote, “The majority of our 285 Kansas libraries now stand at a crossroads. They are justly proud of the course that they have traveled; they are glad that they snatched at opportunities on the way, but a little confused over the route to the future. But pride alone does not place new books on library shelves, nor does it pay adequate salaries to librarians.” She went on to say that only 52% of libraries in Kansas are tax-supported, 60% of the libraries are in third class towns, and 440,503 people either do not use or do not have access to a library. (Kansas Library Bulletin, v. 13, n. 3, September 1944)
After the war, traveling libraries continued to be popular throughout rural Kansas communities and schools. The twenty-fifth biennial noted there were 119,411 books sent to communities and schools from July 1, 1946 to June 30, 1948. Shawnee county had the most loaned traveling library books at 19,862. (1946 to 1948, Twenty-fifth Biennial Report of the Kansas Traveling Libraries)
(The Kansas Library Bulletin, March-December 1949)
The public library statistics for 1948-1949 received 225 reports from a possible 272 libraries. As a source of income, 215 reported taxation, 36 reported clubs or associations, seven reported Other (public utilities endowment, rent) and 14 had no report on source of income. The count on libraries was up from 244 in 1948 to 272 in 1949. (Kansas Library Bulletin, September 1950)
Throughout the early history of the traveling libraries, circulation numbers rose year by year. By the 1930s and 1940s, the numbers leveled off with some fluctuation. Total 1930s traveling book loans were 587,465 books compared to 1940s total book loans at 594,704 books. During those two decades, Kansans had utilized more than 1.1 million books from traveling library services. Kansans valued books and reading, even during the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II. Total traveling library book loans from the very beginning of its inception in 1897 through 1950 was a staggering 2,039,444 books.
(Chart 1 -Statistics compiled from the Biennial Reports of the State Librarian of Kansas, the Traveling Libraries Commission Biennial Reports and the Kansas Library Bulletin. These documents are on KGI.)
Read Part 1 of this Series
"Traveling Libraries. Part 1: "Books--Blessed Books"
Read Part 3 of this Series
"Traveling Libraries, Part 3: Challenges and Bookmobiles for Rural Kansas"