For a short period of time in the very first years of the Peace Corps all Volunteers were given book lockers by the agency. The lockers were to be left behind in schools, villages, and towns where PCVs served as seeds for future libraries.
There is some mystery of who first thought to give PCVs these lockers and one rumor has it that the idea came from Sarge Shriver’s wife, Eunice. The first locker was put together by a young foreign service officer who left the agency in the very early days of the agency to teach at Claremont College in California.
In a letter that Shriver wrote to the early PCVs about the locker, he said, “We know you need books. This Booklocker of paperbacks and inexpensive publications is designed to meet that need. It includes classics and contemporary writing by both American and foreign authors, as well as titles on American history, politics, and social thought. There are also books on the area where you are working. The Ladder Editions with their reduced vocabularies of 1000 to 4000 words, and the other simple, illustrated materials may be useful aids for children and adults learning English.”
The books were divided into five categoris: Literature, (which in turn had four sections: American Fiction, International Fiction, Poetry, Biography); No-Fiction (Americana, International Studies & Other); Reference (Books & Maps); Learning English (Classics Illustrated & Ladder Editions); Regional Lists (Africa, Latin America, NearEast/South Asia, North Africa, Far East).
Among the Literature books were Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser and Naked and the Dead by Norman Miller; the International Fiction had Graham Greene’s Third Man and Animal Farm by George Orwell; there were also poems by T.S. Eliot and Robert Penn Warren’s Six Centuries of Great Poetry, as well as both biographies of Abe Lincoln by Carl Sandburg.
Among the reference books were James Beard Cookbook and Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care. There were maps of the world in English, Spanish and French and also tossed into the locker, the Wonderful World of Peanuts by Charles Schultz and Burl Ives Songbook. Go figure!
Needless to say, when the APCD arrived upcountry, and at the end of the road, several months after you were in your village, and he was carrying a month worth of mail from back home and this new, shiny black booklocker full of brand new paperbacks–written in English!–you thought you had died and gone to heaven.