President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was a series of federal programs, public works projects, and financial reforms enacted in the 1930s in response to the Great Depression, a time when food, education, and economic opportunities were scarce. One innovative program implemented by the Works Progress Administration distributed books and magazines to poor individuals in remote areas of eastern Kentucky with the help of librarians traveling on horseback. The Pack Horse Library initiative featured librarians riding about 80 miles (129 km) a week, traveling up rocky creek beds or following muddy mountainous paths, ultimately serving as many as 100,000 Kentuckians in the remotest parts of Appalachia.
A proud chapter in library history:
- Carriers used their own horses or mules, their saddlebags stuffed with books, and earned $28 USD a month, the equivalent of about $495 USD in today’s money.
- The Pack Horse Library and many WPA programs ended in 1943 when the new war effort put many more people back to work.
- By 1946, motorized bookmobiles were being used to serve many of the same rural communities.