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Rural Libraries

library, school, community, county, li, societies and movement

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RURAL LIBRARIES of the present are largely an outgrowth of the general library movement in the United States for the past 40 years. Nevertheless, many of these libraries are due to earlier educational movements. The desire for self-education which has characterized the United States ever since the colonial period stimulated the growth of societies devoted, like Franklin's Junta, tb the improvement of their members. These spread to the small towns throughout the original colonies. The isolation of these small communities, due to wretched transportation facilities, made these societies play a large part in the community life. Li braries were a recognized part of the activities of many of these societies. Even when the so ciety dissolved, the library often persisted to become either the predecessor or the direct ancestor of a modern ablic library. Many of the libraries of New land, New York and the Atlantic seaboard originated in this way. The lyceum movement, which was influential throughout the North and West from about 1830 till after the Civil War, through its lec ture courses and public discussions caused the formation of many society libraries. Even the villages, too small to maintain lecture courses, had their local °literary* or °debating societies?) Many of these maintained small libraries for their members. School libraries became fairly common. Many of these like the school dis trict libraries) of New York State (authorized by law in 1834) served as rural community libraries also. Sunday-schools became' very common everywhere. A small library was con sidered an essential part of nearly all of these, whether urban, village or in isolated church or schoolhouse. These libraries served an excel lent purpose in familiarizing the rural sections with the library idea even though their books were usually confined to the mediocre or evan gelistic types.

Massachusetts in 1890 established a library commission which took for its purpose the founding of a free public library in every town in the State. Other library commissions were founded. In every case the founding and maintenance of rural libraries was one of their chief duties. Through the traveling libraries. maintained by these commissions the num ber of rural libraries was greatly increased and the number and quality of their books and periodicals materially improved. The com

missions have also done excellent work in at tempting to put the small rural libraries in touch with larger libraries and other library activities of their respective States.

Coincident with the rise of library commis sions, the University Extension movement, which was imported from England in 1887 and flourished in the United States for more than a decade afterward, promoted the formation of °extension centres" and study clubs. The need of library facilities for the use of these groups soon became apparent and, in many cases, led to the formation of rural libraries free for the use of the entire community. Later educational reading circles and other extension movements of universities or State departments of educa tion, have done much to show the need of rural libraries. Rural community centres also usu ally have a small library as part of their equip ment.

Rural libraries, like rural schools, are prob ably only at the beginning of their adequate development. In many cases they will, in all probability, be merged with the rural school library. In the larger villages the rural li brary will probably be independent of the school library, though co-operating with it in every practicable way. Virtually all the State library commissions, many of the State departments of education and the Federal Bureau of Education are increasing their efforts to obtain good li brary facilities for all residents of the State, whether in the city, the town, the remote ham let or the isolated farmhouse. The rural school has been made possible only through State supervision and State support. It seems prob able that the rural library as well is destined to receive a greater share of State support than it now gets. Closer organization of rural li brary interests has been begun in some places through district libraries which act as reference and distributing centres for the small libraries of their districts. In many States the county has been adopted as the district unit. The first of these county libraries was the Brumback Library of Van Wert, Ohio, which became the library centre for Van Wert County in 1894. The best-known State system of county libra ries is that of California.

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