EDUCATION Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 13: EDUCATION
Series 19: STUDENTS
Community Service
Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS 1937-1949

EDUCATION Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS

Ruth Shuler on horseback, delivering books as part of the library program. c. late 1930s. [garner_006.jpg]  (121)

EDUCATION Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS 1937-1949

TAGS: Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS, mobile libraries, Don Thompson,  literacy, horses, books, WPA, Glyn Morris, Ray Garner, Virginia Garner, Harmon Foundation, Nan Milan, Ruth Shuler, Edna Mae Patterson, Bonnie Ayers

“In the fall Pine Mountain assumed the responsibility of a pack horse library service which was later financed by W.P.A. although the expense of maintaining the horses is being borne by a member of the Board of Trustees. The librarian used horse and school bus to good advantage and provided traveling library service for adults and children in the seven local schools and community. The eagerness with which the librarian is met by school children is evidence of the useful services which she is performing.”

Glyn Morris wrote this account of the Pack Horse Library Service in his 1937 Annual Report to the Board of Trustees. The program he referred to was begun much earlier at the school, but the subsidy was not picked up by the W.P.A. program for Pine Mountain Settlement until 1937. Prior to that, book delivery was generally by the staff at the School as they made their regular weekly community visits.

The Pack Horse

EDUCATION Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS

“Sunny Jim ‘Packs” Library.” The Pine Cone, April 1941. [Untitled-picture-Copy.png]

In the April 1941 Pine Cone student newsletter, the “Pack Horse” at Pine Mountain is described by Bonnie Ayers, a boarding student who was a pack horse librarian at the time:


“Well, ain’t he a purty hoss. Now I remember when Doc Newman rode him and he ain’t hardly changed a lick exceptin’ a few gray hairs and a little extry fat.” Such was the comment of a reader as she received her copies of Life and Readers Digest from the pack horse librarian. “Maybe you’d like to be on Sunny Jim when something scares him, but not me,” said the rider. “I don’t usually stay on him long when something does scare him.” 

No one could play the Lone Ranger on Sunny Jim. Not that horse. When he hears the report of a twenty-two he acts like a wild bronco. And that is not all. He trembles like an aspen leaf for at least five minutes afterward. But Sunny Jim is not to blame. Think of the years he has spent walking up and down the creeks with a different rider every other time. Just as soon as he gets accustomed to one person the next generation comes along and jerks him the opposite way. Now, the poor beast does well if he plunges straight ahead. But just watch him go from Boys’ House to the barn. War Admiral? Man-o-War? No, just Sunny Jim going home after a trying day in the community, with a bouncing greenhorn on his back.

Community Outreach

In the student program, the pack horse concept was integrated into the curriculum. It was part of a much broader community outreach effort by the School that included medical services, hand-craft classes in the local schools, as well as the delivery of books and brief literacy exercises with the community members by the student librarians. The program continued until the closure of the boarding school in 1949. Among the students who participated in the program were Edna Mae Patterson, Bonnie Ayers, Nan Milan, Don Thompson, and Ruth Shuler, .

The following amusing account of the Pine Mountain Settlement School Pack Horse Library Service is described by student Don Thompson as part of a Community Group Assembly program presented by the participating students in May of 1942 to upcoming student service participants. The students explain the range of services offered. This particular offering by Thompson is memorable as it captures the critical transition from horse, to foot, to motorized delivery of books.

Hattie: “Mr. Packhorse librarian, Don Thompson.” (Don walks to table, carrying bag filled with books.)

[He reports]

“What is there in this job of being packhorse librarian? Well, in the first place, there’s a lot to be done that hasn’t been done; it’s a job that requires a lot of ingenuity. Mrs. [Birdena] Bishop told me that I was to try to ‘create reading appetites,’ that is, it was part of my job to make people want to read something really worthwhile. I feel that I haven’t gotten very far and there is a lot of room for next year’s librarian to make improvements.

“To begin with, there was much time early In the year when Sunny Jim [the horse] was laid up. He finally recovered from an operation and I took my first lessons in horseback riding. Was I sore? Well, I got over that, but I’m not enough of a horseman yet to feel that I’m boss when I’m mounted. In spite of a tight rein, Sunny Jim still shies when we pass half a dozen trucks at Nolan’s store.

“When I started out I carried my books in saddlebags, but they were too small. Then Mrs. Bishop made a big double carrier out of burlap bags, to be thrown across the saddle. When we found out that Sunny Jim was to be sold, I came to class one day to find that Mrs. Bishop made me this pretty pink thing out of a feed bag. (Holds bag outstretched to display it.) It looked like a girl’s apron to me but from then on I was to wear it, and I was to be the horse.

“These are some of the things I have found out: There are almost no boys of teen age in the homes that I visit; there are very few men at home either; so most of my readers are women and small children; The women like Life Magazine, Woman’s Day, Reader’s Digest, and some novels; The small children want picture books and fairy tales, and those a little older like Indian stories and airplane books. They ask for Zane Grey and adventure stories. Everybody wants me to stop and talk. They hear radio reports, sometimes just parts of them, or rumors, and they don’t understand and are excited or worried. I tell them how I see things and it helps. There’s always something that I must look at: a little boy wants me to come see his 4-H Club strawberry patch; one would have me look at his pet rabbit; another wants me to stop long enough for a game of marbles; another to pitch some horseshoes; a woman wants me to look at her garden; another wants me to get the harness off a mule who took to wallowing In the lot before his gear had been removed. I ask a barefoot boy if the stones hurt his feet. he says, ‘Watch me run!’ and then he pounds heels and soles along the rocky road and comes back to show me his feet — tough as shoe leather on the bottom.

“Most of our books are for circulation, but some are to be given away and I try to distribute those where they will be most used. I find that those given away last year are kept carefully, and one family in particular proudly showed me their few books and called it their ‘library.’ Even though they may not all be read I think it means something just to have some books around in sight. There is a pride in the ownership of books which promises greater literacy in the future for some of our people.”

Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS: GARNER Photographs

The following gallery of photographs is by Virginia Garner, wife of Ray Garner, the team that came to Pine Mountain in 1941-1942 under the sponsorship of the Harmon Foundation. They were charged to document the very progressive educational program at Pine Mountain and stayed on the campus for most of the school year and produced a film as well as a folio of still shots. The following images are some of those still shots that detail the Pack Horse Library Service and feature Ruth Shuler, a student at the time. When she graduated from Pine Mountain, she attended Berea College and eventually lived in Abilene, Kansas, where she spent a life-time in public service, much of it in support of libraries.

Virginia and Ray Garner left Pine Mountain and made a name for themselves in the film industry, with innovative technical work as well as meaningful content.

Gallery: Pack Horse Library Service at PMSS