traveling libraries, rural libraries, South Dakota history, pioneer culture
The dearth of reading material was a recurring lament in the writings and memoirs of Dakota settlers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. “I was born with a desire to read, . . . and I have never gotten over it,” declared Henry Theodore Washburn, recalling his Minnesota boyhood and homesteading years in Dakota Territory, “but there was no way in those days to gratify that desire to any great extent.”1 This lack was indeed of consequence. In the pre-electronic era, print was a primary means of obtaining information, insight, and pleasure. High rates of literacy, sharp increases in book production, and falling costs all contributed to the pervasiveness of the printed word. Whether it promoted particular values or challenged them, reading played a vital role in shaping how individuals assigned meaning to their lives. Governing what and how much was read were geographical location, environment, economic conditions, educational levels, and amount of leisure time. For many early South Dakota settlers, reading was certainly not a prime activity or even a real option. Those who did actively involve themselves in the culture of print were variously motivated. From ordinary rural dwellers, to the educated elite, to book publishers and sellers, each had an agenda—whether to strive for cultural improvement, spread “right ideals,” make a quick profit, or simply eke out a living. In any case, getting books to remote regions required initiative and perseverance. A historical examination of South Dakota’s print culture, focusing on the experiences of those who supplied reading material and those who received it, can afford a valuable glimpse into the cultural aspirations and attitudes of a rural population in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America.
DOI of Published Version
John Hopkins University Press
Copyright © 2004 The Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing.
Lindell, Lisa, "Bringing Books to a "Book-Hungry Land": Print Culture on the Dakota Prairie" (2004). Hilton M. Briggs Library Faculty Publications. 29.