History Nerd

I have claimed my nerd like qualities to many things. In this, part I of my upcoming series, I will highlight when 2 of my nerd loves come together; libraries and history.   

I volunteered to be part of committee tasked with starting a Hall of Fame for public librarians.  Our first assignment was to read a collection of 7 documents (totaling just shy of 400 pages) on various histories of Missouri libraries.  I had over a month to get this done, I started it the day before.  My favorite documents were, A History of the Missouri Library Commission, 1907-1946 by Nancy Less Doering dated 1975, Missouri in the Library War Service, an article from The University of Missouri Bulletin dated July 16, 1931, and The Missouri Libraries Film Cooperative by Joseph Palmer dated 1976.  We will start with the first document I listed. 

The Missouri Library Commission is what is now known as the Missouri State Library.  The Missouri Library Association formed in 1900, it was their “primary aim” to secure a state library commission.  Senate Bill 230 failed in 1901, House Bill 78 failed in 1903 and in 1905 another bill failed again.  Governor Folk signed Senate Bill 232 on March 20, 1907, to create the Missouri Library Commission.  That took a while, didn’t it?

In 1935, only 1,740,000 people had access to libraries.  That meant 50% of the population did not have access, including 90% of the rural population.  Imagine what that number must have been in 1907.   Traveling libraries were the answer to this problem.  The Missouri Federation of Women’s Clubs started traveling libraries in March of 1899, by November of that same year there were a total of 17 traveling libraries, this number grew to 26 at one point.  After the commission formed, the Missouri Federation of Women’s Clubs donated its libraries to the commission, a collection of approximately 1,300 books. “The commission decided that organizing and circulating the traveling libraries was their first duty.”

From 1907-1916, the commission was appropriated a total of $63,630, $20,981.80 was spent on book expenditures.  During that time, there was a total of 107,762 circulations.  In 1907,12 traveling libraries were stationed in rural Missouri.  By 1916 there were 277 stations that served 403 different places.  Wowzers!  The most amazing part of the circulation of the traveling libraries is the transitions of checkouts.  The statistics are divided into 8 categories.  Initially, communities, public libraries, school libraries and study groups represented the bulk of circulation.  That number started to change after WWI.  From 1907-1916, only 781 individuals checked out items.  For the year of 1921 alone, that number was 963.  That number peaked in 1932, 19,318 individual checkouts, over 60,000 for all of the categories, the year before someone (I have yet to research who) decided the commission should be abolished and the books should be stored.  WHAT!?!?

Some evil monster tried to pass the bill 2 times.  This was followed by a drastic cut in appropriations, specifically an amount that was only $862.50 more than the amount that was passed 26 years before. 

It seems to me that libraries have always been fighting to provide service, that initially made me a little depressed and really aggravated my illness of wanting to prove myself and my worth.  No need for worry, statistics don’t lie. The number of people not reached by public libraries was astonishing and a small group of people, 5 to be exact (the amount of the 1907 commission), changed our state and specifically our rural communities, yep, that included us. 

Next week we will discuss, Missouri in the Library War Service.  It is another account of librarians doing magic with small numbers. 

Upcoming Events: 2/2 Book Club at 6:30pm, 2/3 Story Time in the Community room (masks required for adults) at 10am