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Remote Rap Sessions – The Kitchen Sisters: The Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky

Wednesday, June 10, 2020 @ 11:00 am 12:00 pm

Register for the Zoom discussion

The selection for the fourth session of TRLN’s Remote Rap Sessions will be an episode of The Kitchen Sisters podcast called “The Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky”. This episode is available on multiple podcast platforms, but can also be streamed from Registration helps with our planning and is much appreciated. You can register before and during the discussion and will receive the meeting link as soon as you register.

During the Depression, those horrible years after 1929, the Appalachians were hit hard. Coal mines were being shut down. Many people were living in dire poverty with no hope. In 1936, as part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Kentucky WPA began to hire pack horse librarians, mostly women, to carry books to isolated cabins, rural school houses and homebound coalminers. The routes were rugged and treacherous. The “bookwomen” followed creek beds and fence routes through summer heat and frozen winters — their saddlebags and pillowcases stuffed with Robinson Crusoe, Women’s Home Companion, Popular Mechanics. Many people were illiterate and the women often stayed and read to them. The pay was $28 a month. Each woman was required to supply her own horse or mule, their food and boarding. When the program closed in 1943 as America entered World War II, nearly one thousand pack horse librarians had served 1.5 million people in 48 Kentucky counties.

The Kitchen Sisters episode is less than 30 minutes, but these are some alternative formats to learn about this topic for the discussion on June 10th.

Donna Cornick, Retired, Head of Electronic Services, Reference Department, UNC Libraries (and Roosevelt aficionado), Sonoe Nakasone, Community Driven Archives Mellon Grant, Southern Historical Collection, and Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist and Project Director, Community Driven Archives Mellon Grant, Southern Historical Collection will co-facilitate this discussion.

Discussion questions:

  • What’s one thing you found interesting about the episode?
  • What is something you would like to know about the Pack Horse Librarians program that was not addressed in the podcast?
  • Would programs like the Works Progress Administration (WPA) or the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) succeed today, to create jobs and rebuild infrastructure? What can you imagine would be a modern day equivalent of this program? 
  • What should be the role of the federal government, state government, or local governments in creating and sustaining programs like this? 
  • The Pack Horse Librarians project, like other WPA and CCC projects, was born of economic crisis. What action, creativity, and innovation is emerging from the current crisis of COVID and the recent protests against police violence and racial injustice?

Suggested Resources: