Adair County Iowa
The Rural School Library
An understanding of the library must begin with the texts, for the library was supplemental to them. The early texts were one-of-a-kind. Even the “readers” –McGuffy, Harper, or Cyr -- listed only six books for the eight or more years of grade school. Each was necessarily read and reread to the point of dullness. It was common to “take” the physiology text three or four times. There was urgent need for more book resources.
Since the hard-pressed parents had to pay for the texts, and “Johnny” could just use “Jenny's” old books, a change demanded a serious need and the support of state law. Beginning in 1896 the law required that the county board re-evaluate the texts every five years and adopt on a countywide basis. This updated the texts but not until the introduction of the new Aldine Method in 1911 did little Johnny have two primers or first readers. Although a few education-minded parents gave books for Christmas and exchanged with friends, with perhaps a subscription to Youth’s Companion and American Boy added to the weekly Sunday school paper, it fell on the school library to develop educated pupils by filling the need for challenging material.
Good teachers have always been concerned with the need. Funds might be raised by a program and box social. Bernard Humphrey, brother of the late Mrs. John Carl, of Greenfield, was teaching at Grove No. 8 in 1898-1809. He started a little library of such books in a homemade bookcase measuring about 18” x 30". There were classics--Irving, Cooper, Scott, Tom Brown's school days--and children's books such as Cinderella and The Little Match Girl, which was either a warning or a horror story to tiny ones. These were jealously guarded on the day the secretary came to take the Circulating Library, for they were ours. They belonged to the local school.
The circulating library seems to have started in 1900, the first date in the library record. Each year, thereafter, the secretary of the township board, with the superintendent, chose new books for his township, apparently from a numbered catalog. The numbers chosen varied from 10 to 50. In the nine independent districts of Lincoln Township each school chose 3 to 5 new books. Twice, a notation on a township list reports that most of the books for the year were never purchased (by the state?), indicating that they were bought from some township funds. In 1911 Adaline Brooks sent a list to secretaries so that they need not drive their horses to Greenfield.
The circulating library belonged to the entire township. It was a great day when once a year -- more or less -- the secretary came with books from an adjoining school and moved the current library to the next school. In Grand River, Henry Young carried them in seamless socks, which were waterproof. Often he went on horseback. Charlie Sackett, in Grove, used a telescope(?), or valise which was expandable and fit nicely into his buggy. The exchange was made in the off-season for farm work and was often delayed. A book that had been taken home could not circulate that year, so the list did not remain balanced. It might be nine years before a desired book came back -- perhaps after the people had left school. With the addition of books from other sources, the circulation was discontinued sometime in the 1920’s(sp).
Titles of the early books indicate an aim to supplement in physiology, history, geography and nature study, as well as literature. All were in dull covers and fine print. The brightest book was the red Iowa Official Register furnished free. Every school had Webster's International (Dictionary) fastened to its rack by its canvas cover. And perhaps some social program had furnished a globe, charts, and pull-down maps. There were helps for the teacher in question, books to use before eighth grade examinations. And the “dialogue” book, with its poems, playlets, and ethnic characters, was used for programs. But that program may have instead bought a flag, pictures, curtains, art supplies, or playground equipment.
The earliest general reference book was probably The Century Book of Facts, about 1910. Finally an encyclopedia was bought for each school. Eureka, Grove, and others purchased the world book in 1923. Not all encyclopedias were of the same quality. Finally the Board ruled that a new one and other books should be approved by the superintendent. These hastened the end of the circulating. Later Compton’s (Encyclopedia), or some other later copyright, was added.
It would be impossible to list sources of funds in order of time. Every means was used. In 1913 a Summit school had bought books with their storm insurance money. Another source was the interest on the Permanent Schoolhouse Fund, which was money received from sale of government land grants given at the time of school organization. The principle could not be used. In 1941 the Superintendent urged that all the interest be used for the library. In that year, too, the state aid was increased from 15 to 24.5 cents per resident on the school census (ages 5 to 21). When a 1927 law was passed, the Board then required that reference books be added each year, beginning with geography. The Superintendent, in 1939, directed that funds allotted for a closed school be divided among the remaining schools. A Grand River school had a tuition pupil; that money bought books, including Indian Nights. Even the Rural Teachers Club got into the act by designating the commissions on the subscriptions to teachers’ magazines to the libraries. County Fair prize money was paid in cash but through the Superintendent's office. In 1955 for a $5 prize $3 was given to the school for book report and attendance record books, and the remainder was applied to books, which could be obtained more cheaply from the county office.
Education was modernizing, to the benefit of the pupil. Parents could not be asked to buy multiple books used once or twice for unit projects. Not every book was needed all the time. By 1958 a County Circulating Library had been developed allowing rotation of books through the county office. In 1965 books were checked out for a month -- one book per pupil enrolled. Texts also were furnished from the office to supplement the few in the school. In 1937 funds were short for the new adoption of Friendly Hour readers. They were rented until 1942 when the cost had been recovered. There were a few later rentals of texts.
Also available from the central office were reference books -- five sets of Childcraft in 1950 -- project units, maps, filmstrips, projectors. About this time someone, who would have remembered that words constantly develop new meanings, followed the government's multiple word title system and changed the simple word Library to Learning Resource Center, which naturally became the meaningless LRC.
It is impractical to list titles that might be interesting to the reader. Seeing is believing. Both the early and late libraries can be seen at the country school at the Fairgrounds. For the nucleus of the library, including the wooden bookcase, the historical society is indebted to the Grove Township trustees, who allowed the library at the Center School to be moved to the building used for exhibit, museum, and the Living History School. Since the summer of 1969 books have been given -- in many boxes and sacks -- totaling about 1,700 in the accession book, for use at the school. These are first in the old bookcase, with the new library in the library room.
Multiple texts were used in the Living History classes. It has been the exhibit goal to shelve at least one copy of each text adopted including those before 1896 where possible. For these lists and many of the supplementary books the guide is the list made by Hazel Jensen from the minutes of the past 86 years. The libraries are in a setting of authentic desks, seats, and equipment of the 20th Century schools of Adair County, gathered by donations from many people.
The sources of this history of the rural school library are: the Superintendent's Library Record, Adair County; circular letters of County Superintendents Edna Barnes and George Bergmann for the years 1953 to 1957; compilations by Hazel Jensen from the minutes and records of the Superintendent and County Board; library books accessioned at the Country School at the County Fairgrounds; interviews with former students and teachers; and, of course, memory.