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The public library has possibilities as an educational institution exceeded only by those of the school. In many cases it is the intellectual center of the community, while in others the caricature of the library of Gopher Prairie in Sinclair Lewis' "Main Street," where one of the chief objects was to keep the books from being soiled or worn out, is not much overdrawn. Increasingly, however, the librarian is studying methods of salesmanship for increasing the local consumption of the products of the world's best minds in books and magazines, and is of inestimable service to all organizations whose members have occasion to study what human thought has contributed to the solution of their problems. The public library gives the means of further education to many a person deprived of academic privileges, who may realize the truth of Carlyle's saying: "The true University of these days is a Collection of Books."

Downs, Kansas Carnegie library from NE 1

In many states public libraries are aided by state and local appropriations, particularly in New England and the states settled by New England stock, for it is to New England[43] that we are indebted for the public library as well as the public school. It is not, however, economically possible for every small community to support a permanent local library, and many of those established have a precarious existence and are maintained only through the devotion of public-spirited individuals. To meet the need of isolated neighborhoods a few county libraries, notably in Washington County, Maryland, and a few counties in Delaware and Minnesota, have made use of book-wagons which are accompanied by a librarian who makes a "rural free delivery" of books to each home and assists the families in their selection. It seems, however, that the chief value of the book-wagon is as a means of creating a desire for books, and that when this is created it will be much more economical to furnish them through branch stations at neighborhood or community centers. Systems of traveling libraries are also supported by many states and make it possible for the most isolated neighborhoods to secure the best of books. Unfortunately, however, the places which need them most do not always know of them nor will they take the initiative to secure them. They are of particular value for securing collections of books on special topics for the use of granges, churches, and study clubs of all sorts. But as the demand for traveling libraries grows, the administration of the system from the state library becomes a large undertaking and the need of better local libraries is realized.

A system of "county libraries" has been developed in California, has spread to several other states, and is now being advocated by the American Library Association and by library leaders generally. Under the county system a central library is established at the county seat, with branches or loan stations at the different community centers, and with traveling collections for the more isolated neighborhoods. The larger centers which have local libraries continue to maintain them and simply serve as part of the system. Thus the library resources of the county are pooled and the farm people are given the same sort of service that a city library gives its people through its branches. The feature of interest from a community standpoint is that, although this is a county system, it recognizes the usefulness of local branches and makes possible a library service adapted to its needs for every small community, whereas separate libraries have heretofore been possible only in the larger centers.