I am reading Reading Places: Literacy, Democracy, and the Public Library in Cold War America, Univ of Massachusetts Press, 2010 by Christine Pawley.
It is a study of a short-lived bookmobile project in upper Wisconsin in Door and Kewaunee counties in the early 1950s. Pawley cobbles together the extant records of the project and interviewed many of those involved, including the rural librarians and especially the readers. In many ways it reminds me so much of our library promotion efforts in Burkina Faso and Ghana, except I keep sighing as I realize that her occasional statistics (like 30% of adult women having attended high school) are almost wildly huge compared with Burkina Faso where maybe 1% of adult women attend high school! But the most important issues: who are the library services for (it always ends up being for children) and how to get more adults reading (very hard) are issues in Africa. There are nice descriptions of the tradeoffs faced in extending library services, and the political minefields that affect funding.
The book offers a number of suggestions for quantitative research that I am interested in with some colleagues, namely how to estimate the magnitude of the impacts of library services. In estimating these magnitudes we are always looking for reasons why library services varied somewhat randomly... then if we can find measures of outcomes that happened years down the road, we have some good methods for estimating the magnitudes of the effects. Pawley's book reminded me that the WPA built out a lot of rural libraries during the Depression, perhaps comparable in scale to Carnegie's build out earlier.... And of course the Door-Kewaunee experiment would have been like a controlled experiment, except that the two counties are on a peninsula extending into Lake Michigan! So no "control" counties neighboring them.
An excellent short review of the book by "Marvin" is here
and I'm grateful because he reminded me of the series of Landmark biographies that Iread also as a child... doezens of them