Those Little Delaware Traveling Libraries

The 1904 Handbook of the State Library Commission. Source: Google Books.

When the General Assembly created the Delaware State Library Commission in 1901 it was given the task of providing for “lifelong education” and recreational reading for people from the rolling hills of the Brandywine Valley to the Atlantic Beaches and farm-fields of Sussex County.  As so many citizens resided in isolated small towns and farming communities early in the 20th century the Commission sought to stock and circulate traveling libraries.

Cases containing valued reading materials were shipped to “stations” in villages and wide spots in the road.  Thus the “powerful allure away from less worthy occupations and amusements” and the availability of books was put in the hands of people in the most remote communities, according to the Commission’s 1904 report.

The Commission owned 45 of the traveling libraries in 1904.  The State Federation of Women donated seven cases containing 50 volumes each of “wholesome and interesting books.”  The Wilmington New-Century Club, the Dover Century Club, and some individuals also made gifts of these materials.  But the Commission had urgent need for many more.  The gifts that circulated throughout rural parts of the Diamond State carried the “names of donors both in the books and on the cases.”

In the first decades of the 20th century, when literature was scarce and many lived far away from the local reading room, it must have been an exciting time when that case of books, the bookmobile of the era, arrived in a remote Delaware village.  And It was an economical method the Commission reminded taxpayers, as the cost of local rent, fuel, lights, librarian’s salary and the cost of equipment and inventory were spared.

The Corbit-Calloway collection has traveling library’s case number 9 in its Delmarva Collection. The donor’s name is etched into the door of the case for shipping books to all parts of the State.

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