Making Connections: The Library of Congress and the Moonlight Schools of Kentucky*

April 16, 2016 is National Librarian Day.

Making Connections: The Library of Congress and the Moonlight Schools of Kentucky*

Tom Sticht, International Consultant in Adult Education. 4/7/2016.

In 1977, Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, was successful in getting the U. S. Congress to establish the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. The next year he invited me to serve as a member of the National Advisory Board of the Center for the Book. In 1979, as a Senior Associate at the U. S. National Institute of Education, I worked with John Cole, Director of the Center for the Book, to sponsor a conference on “The Textbook in American Education”. The conference was held in early May of 1979 in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress and a brief summary volume of the papers presented was subsequently published by the Library of Congress (Cole & Sticht, 1981).

The Textbook conference highlighted the role of functional contexts in the preparation of textbooks. In a paper entitled “Cultures and Textbooks,” Sylvia Scribner, also of the National Institute of Education, noted that “The instructional system in which the textbook and reader function is embedded in a larger social order which shapes the purposes and practice of instruction.  Until a comparative perspective forces us to look at education in other times and places, we may overlook the pervasive influence which social context exerts on uses of text.”

Functional Contexts in Textbooks for Rural Adult Illiterates

The importance of taking a comparative approach to understanding how social contexts influence the design and uses of textbooks is clearly illustrated in the early work of Cora Wilson Stewart, founder of the Moonlight Schools for illiterate adults in Kentucky.  Starting in 1915, Stewart published the first of a series of three textbooks for illiterate adults living in rural areas as compared to city dwellers.  Her textbook series was entitled “Country Life Readers” and in the “First Book” she explained her reasons for publishing books for country folks:

Quote: “There is an increasing demand for the education of adult illiterates who have somehow missed their opportunity in early life, and also for the better education of adults that have a very limited degree of learning. The city has provided for this need to some extent with evening schools, designed mainly for foreigners. All the textbooks for evening schools have, therefore, been prepared strictly for immigrants and city dwellers. Rural America is coming to realize that there exists a need for education among adults in the rural sections as much as among those in the cities. For this reason moonlight schools, rural evening schools, …demand textbooks which deal with the problems of rural life and which reflect rural life, and to meet this demand this book has been prepared” (Stewart, 1915). End quote



Clearly, Stewart understood the role of functional contexts as central influences on the design and uses of textbooks.  In her Country Life Readers she integrated the teaching of literacy with the teaching of content knowledge in farming, healthy living, civics, home economics, financial management, parenting and other important knowledge useful in the functional contexts of adults living on farms and in small, rural towns” (Stewart, 1920, p. 71).

The Importance of Families Reading Together

In 1908, E. B. Huey wrote a textbook chapter entitled  “Learning to Read at Home” in which he discussed the ways parents may help their children acquire the foundations for reading development.  He stated “The secret of it all lies in the parent’s reading aloud to and with the child. … at home there is scarcely a more commendable and useful practice than that of reading much of good things aloud to the children.” (Huey, 1908/1968, p. 332 & 334)

In her 1915 textbook, The Country Life Readers: First Book, Stewart passed on Huey’s advice about the importance of families reading together to the adults in the Moonlight Schools. She wrote several lines for the adult literacy students learning to read:

Quote: “I can read.

I can read a book.

I will read many good books.

We will read at home.”

End quote


Some 70 years later, Daniel Boorstin prepared a report about the future of the book, including textbooks, for the U.S. Congress. He discussed problems associated with illiteracy among adults and included a section on how adult illiteracy might be lessened if children were read to by their parents early in life. In a section called READING BEGINS AT HOME he echoes Huey and Stewart and states:

Quote: “The best way to motivate people to read is to encourage reading at home and early in life.  Book reading is greatest among children whose parents or guardians value reading both for pleasure and as a key to achievement.  More children would be reading—and would themselves become avid readers—if their parents were readers, talked about what they had read, and encouraged the family to read at home.” (Boorstin, 1984, pp. 12-13). End quote

But for many adults with literacy difficulties, reading to their children is not easy, if possible at all. In these cases, literacy training may be helpful in preparing adults with the literacy skills needed to read to their children. In the early 1990s I worked on a research project with Wider Opportunities for Women, a non-profit organization that provides women with literacy education and job training. In this project we followed the procedures of functional context education which Stewart followed in writing her Country Life Readers. We integrated the teaching of literacy into the content of training in nontraditional jobs for women in a number of cities across the nation.

At the end of the project, we found that even though there was no teaching of parenting in the programs, most of the mothers in the programs nevertheless exhibited changes in their parenting behavior. Of particular interest were he findings that the mothers read more to their children and they took their children to the library more often!


Fortunately, at the libraries, the mothers found knowledgeable and caring librarians to help them put their new literacy and parenting skills to good use finding books they could read for themselves and for reading to their children.

On Saturday, April 16th we celebrate National Librarian Day. So take a little time Saturday morning, go to your local library and thank the librarians who help make your community a better place to live. And, of course, take some time to enjoy a good read!

[NOTE: For additional information on adult literacy and libraries see the 2014 report: Adult Literacy through Libraries: an Action Agenda. Available online at:]



Boorstin, D. (1984). Books in our future: A report from the Librarian of Congress to the Congress. Washington, DC: Joint Committee on the Library, Congress of the United States.

Cole, J. & Sticht, T. (Eds.). (1981). The textbook in American society. Washington, DC: Center for the Book, Library of Congress.

Stewart, C. (1915). Country life readers: First book. New York: B. F. Johnson Publishing Company.

Van Fossen, S. & Sticht, T.  (1991, July). Teach the mother and reach the child. Washington, DC: Wider Opportunities for Women.
* This is a posting from the AAACE-NLA mailing list on April 8, 2016.
LiteracyTent: web hosting, news, community and goodies for literacy

April 8, 2016 at 12:42 pm Leave a comment

Palm Beach County Library System-Civic and Community Engagement- Top Innovator 2015



The Palm Beach County Library System, FL was honored with the Urban Library Council Top innovator Award in Civic and Community Engagement for the program:

  • Embedded Librarians in County Government


Library staff working in eight county departments provided a valuable boost to research capacity while building stronger internal department connections, enhancing job satisfaction, raising awareness of library capacity, and building a commitment to civic engagement. The Embedded Librarians in County Government matched library staff research expertise with department needs to complete projects that supported community priorities.

“As an integral part of county government, the library system with all of its resources and talented staff is providing expert research services to assist county departments in improving the quality of life for all county residents. The Embedded Librarians project is an opportunity for the library to expand beyond our walls to where research is most needed.” —Doug Crane, Director, Palm Beach County Library System


see Urban Library Council 2015 Top Innovators Showcase.

January 25, 2016 at 2:05 am Leave a comment

A Public Sphere Framework and Research Agenda for the Public Library Sector.

Widdersheim, M. M. (2015). Governance, Legitimation, Commons: A Public Sphere Framework and Research Agenda for the Public Library Sector. Libri: International Journal of Libraries & Information Services, 65(4), 237-245.

Public libraries continually struggle to define their social value, and economic or educational rationales are commonly submitted to this end. In contrast to these approaches, public sphere theory emphasizes the political and social justice aspects of public libraries. Existing library literature has established strong associations between public sphere theory and public libraries, and a tentative model of the public sphere in public libraries has been developed. It is not yet clear, however, how a public sphere model of public libraries might benefit the profession. This paper therefore explains how a conceptual model of the public sphere in public libraries can serve as a potential framework and research agenda for the public library sector. A model of the public sphere in public libraries contains three main arenas of discourse: governance, legitimation, and commons. Each of the arenas represents values that are central to public librarianship. Practitioners and scholars in the public library sector can use the public sphere model to orient research and practice. This paper explains each arena in detail and discusses the model’s relevance as a philosophy and research agenda.


January 5, 2016 at 12:19 pm Leave a comment

What Libraries Offer to Communities Pursuing Revitalization: IMLS

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation was cited as a potential library partner in A Place at the Table: Participating in Community Building ALA, 2000, pp. 8-9.

and today a new IMLS LISC  report, Museums, Libraries and Comprehensive Initiatives: A First Look at Emerging Experience,  includes, “What Museums and Libraries Offer to Communities Pursuing Revitalization”.

Museums and libraries play important and traditional societal roles that alone justify their long-standing community support. But as museum and library leaderships increasingly have embraced broader conceptions of these roles, they have been brought more explicitly into the community revitalization frame. One job of this paper is to help community leaders understand just how helpful these institutions can be to them.Museums and libraries play important and traditional societal roles that alone justify their long-standing community support. But as museum and library leaderships increasingly have embraced broader conceptions of these roles, they have been brought more explicitly into the community revitalization frame. One job of this paper is to help community leaders understand just how helpful these institutions can be to them..

The full report (PDF) is available on the IMLS website and through LISC’s Institute for Comprehensive Community Development.

November 9, 2015 at 5:05 pm Leave a comment

Back to the Future with RQ-Reference and Adult Services Division Journal

Two wayward issues of RUSA’s journal Reference Quarterly (RQ) appear twice in Back to the Future (1985), apparently placed there by set director Hal Gausman. They appear on the bedboard bookcase of Marty McFly and can be seen there at the beginning and the end of the film as the camera pans in on Michael J. Fox.

October 21, 2015 at 7:11 pm Leave a comment

Libraries Transform

Libraries Transform seeks to shift the mindset that “libraries are obsolete or nice to have” to “libraries are essential” and to change the perception that “libraries are just quiet places to do research, find a book and read” to “libraries are centers of their communities: places to learn, create and share, with the help of library staf and the resources they provide.” Through the Libraries Transform campaign, ALA will increase awareness of libraries’ vibrancy and vitality through active local grassroots programs, a national social and traditional media campaign and strategic alliances with corporations, media entities and other organizations. Sari Feldman will introduce the campaign at the June 30, 2015 Inaugural Brunch in San Francisco during the 2015 ALA Annual Conference. Attendees at the brunch will receive a set of postcards with “Because” statements and a sample window cling. This three-year campaign will ofcially launch to the profession and the public in fall of 2015. Goal Libraries Transform is designed to increase public awareness of the value, impact, and services provided by libraries and library professionals of all types. It is designed to showcase how:

• libraries transform both communities and the lives of individuals • libraries continue to transform to meet rapidly changing 21st century needs and • library professionals continue to transform to meet the evolving needs of the communities in which they serve.

October 17, 2015 at 2:47 am Leave a comment

Community Engagement Specialist-Position Opening

The Hernando County (Florida) Public Library System has an opening for a full-time Community Engagement Specialist. The Community Engagement Specialist develops and maintains collaborative outreach programs and community partnerships that increase awareness of library services in the community. This position is responsible for promoting and creating positive public awareness of library services through educational programs, presentations, social media, email campaigns, print advertising, special events, and community outreach. This position may involve producing publications for internal and external audiences including newsletters, speeches, articles, event listings, brochures, press releases, and other materials. The Community Engagement Specialist is responsible for the Library’s social media strategy and all social media engagement.



  • Bachelor’s degree in marketing, communications, public relations, journalism, or other closely related field required.
  • Two (2) years of professional experience in public relations and/or marketing.
  • Experience handling social media for an organization or business and knowledge of social media trends.
  • Experience with Microsoft Office Suite and other publishing and design software.
  • Demonstrated writing ability and verbal communication skills.
  • Must have exceptional interpersonal skills to work with library partners, the public, and library staff.
  • Must possess and maintain a valid Florida Driver’s License and be insurable by current insurance carrier.

If you meet these qualifications and have a positive attitude, superior customer service skills, and exceptional communication skills, please apply to join our innovative library team!

How to Apply:

All applicants must complete the board of county commissioner’s on-line employment application located atWWW.HERNANDOCOUNTY.US/HR.

To apply for this position, please submit a cover letter, employment application, salary requirements and college transcript(s).  Copies/unofficial transcripts showing degree awarded, must be attached to your employment application. All degrees must be awarded by an accredited educational institution. If selected, official transcripts should be sent directly from the College/University to Human Resources

September 25, 2015 at 12:43 pm Leave a comment

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