Under the leadership of Melvil Dewey, the State of New York initiated a state funded traveling library system in 1892. Traveling libraries were small rotating collections that provided a method for extending library service to rural areas. These small libraries usually from 30 to a hundred books were located in a post office, a store, or someone's home with a volunteer acting as the caretaker of the collection. Michigan initiated a similar system in 1895. Iowa and Wisconsin followed in 1896. Many other states also adopted this model of public library extension including among others California, Idaho, Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Other interesting traveling library efforts were the Seaboard Airline Railway Free Traveling Library System and the United States Lighthouse Service Traveling Library. In 1897 the Wisconsin Free Library Commission published a 39 page booklet entitled Free Traveling Libraries in Wisconsin: The Story of Their Growth, Purposes, and Development; With Accounts of a Few Kindred Movements. The cover of the publication is shown above. The cover includes the statement: "It is after all, not the few great libraries, but the thousand small ones, that may do most for the people". The booklet has been digitized by the Wisconsin Historical Society and can be viewed here. More about traveling libraries in the United States can be found here. Historian Joanne E. Passet has written about traveling libraries in "Reaching the Rural Reader: Traveling Libraries in America, 1892-1920," Libraries & Culture, 26 (Winter 1991): 100-118.
Knapp School Libraries Project
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