Introduction

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A photo of a hospital patient selecting books from the Athens Regional Library, Georgia. Courtesy of the Athens Regional Library via Digital Library of Georgia.

As public libraries grew in communities across the United States, they focused on creating better and better access for patrons to library resources. This included new, innovative thinking about how access could be made easier for patrons and how libraries could better serve communities that were isolated from them physically.

Libraries, thinking more broadly about how to bring books directly to the people, developed new programs aimed at previously untapped audiences who might find it too difficult to visit library branches. These included on-site libraries for workers and their families in unique places like railroad cars and factories, as well as library services in hospitals and prisons. In programs funded by communities, as well as the Works Progress Administration, libraries were bringing books to the community by foot, boat, horseback, and the increasingly popular bookmobile. In times of national struggle, like the Great Depression and both World War I and World War II, libraries mobilized to fulfill their missions of public service.