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Monday, April 23
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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Thursday, April 9, 2009

Librarians deliver wisdom of the world by many means

OK, show of hands. How many of you visited your favorite library last week during National Library Week? Good, good. Now for those who did not wave a paw in the breeze—why not? It's so easy. We tri-State-ers are fortunate to have great library spaces and services within walking or driving distance. Easy peasy for us—but what about people not so fortunate—what do they do for library service? Here are a few examples from days gone by as well as modern times.

Back in the days of FDR and the WPA (Works Progress Administration) a group of intrepid women known as the Pack Horse Librarians delivered books and news of the day to Appalachian Kentucky families. Heather Henson's tribute to these women, "That Book Woman", introduces us to one of those adventurous souls through the eyes of young Cal. Living "…way up as up can get. So high we hardly sight a soul…" Cal and his family are most surprised when one day came the "clippity-clop" of a horse bearing a "lady wearing britches for all the world to see" toting two saddle packs of books to share. Cal is nonetheless skeptical. "Book larning" didn't suit him. Sister Lark, however, just itched to get her hands on the books. Pa offered to trade "a poke of berries" for one of the books—but
"that book woman" wasn't there to trade goods. She explained that the books could be borrowed until her next visit when she would bring a new supply. Caldecott Medalist David Small's ink, pastel, and watercolor illustrations depict each Kentucky season and how "that book woman" faithfully delivered her precious cargo in good weather and bad. Did Cal ever learn to appreciate books? For that you'll have to check out the book on your own—at your neighborhood library! (For factual information about the Pack Horse Library Project, read Kathi Appelt's "Down Cut Shin Creek: the Pack Horse Librarians of Kentucky". The photographs are phenomenal.)

While Cal and his family received their library books by horse and rider back in 1930s Kentucky, some modern-day children also have their library books delivered in some rather unusual ways: carts, wagons, boats, elephants and camels. Elephants and camels? Oh my. Oregon-based author Margriet Ruurs' photo-essay, "My Librarian is a Camel: How Books are Brought to Children Around the World" shows us thirteen locales offering non-traditional (to us) methods of library service. Researching these "mobile libraries" Ruurs personally traveled to all thirteen countries to gain first-hand knowledge. From the enticing cover of Mongolian children reading their new books while nestled on wooly camels (What are they reading? Ahh, sorry, didn't quite catch the titles, my Mongolian is a little rusty…) to the color photos of the book-laden pachyderms of Thailand, the single thread that runs throughout the book has to be the happy faces on the children receiving a new supply of books. Ruurs quotes one Azerbaijan librarian who says that libraries [are]"…as important as air or water." (Teachers take note: sidebars include a brief description of the country, a color reproduction of the flag, and a small map pinpointing the location of the country within its continent.) Ruurs' book was a nominee for this year's Young Hoosier Book Award in the Intermediate (grades 4-6) Division.

I thank author Karen Hesse for inspiring this article. While listening to the audiobook edition of her newest novel, "Booklyn Bridge", I learned that the Michtom family of Brooklyn (credited with developing "Teddy's Bears") donated part of their storefront to the Brooklyn Public Library in 1903. Daughter Emily acted as librarian and circulated new titles to the neighborhood families in this unique branch library. Emily "was wonder struck by this delivery of the wisdom of the world to our doorstep." And isn't that what libraries are all about? The wisdom of the world right at our doorstep. (Do treat yourself to the audiobook version of Hesse's book. Fred Berman's narration is dead-on Brooklynese—pure Coney Island and Luna Park.)