General Information

Harlan County Public Library was first established in February of 1925. Members of the Harlan Women's Civic League started the library with 38 books. It was first in a small building on Main Street.


The Harlan City Council allowed the library to open in a room on the second floor of the old city hall building.
During the Great Depression the Pack Horse Library also worked out of the same room and supplemented one another.


After World War II, an agreement arranged by KDLA secured funding for the library from Harlan City Council and Harlan Fiscal Court. Mrs. Ellen McNew was the first librarian.
After moving into the city hall building. the library site has been on the Third Street since 1968 thanks to donations from Bryan Whitfield and Ellen McNew.


Rebecca Caudill Public Library was first established in 1965 in a old store building located on Myers St. in Cumberland, Kentucky.  It was funded by the State Department of Libraries. 


When the library was opened it was named in honor of a local author, Rebecca Caudill.

In 1972, the Cumberland Branch moved to a newly constructed building funded by state library funds.


In 1995, an addition to this construction was completed.  Project funds were provided by an LSCA Grant through the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives, the Harlan County Library District and gifts.



Harlan County Public Library District Board of Trustees

Mark Ford, President

Linda Blevins, Vice-President

Marilyn Unthank, Treasurer

Carla Dye, Secretary

Kymberly Williams

Richard Haynes, Director

Renae Shepherd, Branch Director

Pat North, Branch Director

Lisa Adkison, Branch Director


Rebecca was born in Cumberland, KY on February 2, 1899 on 402 River Street (Known as Poor Fork). She died on October 2, 1985 at 9:15 p.m. in Urbana, Illinois at the age of 86.

Rebecca was 1 of 11 children. Her parents were Geroge Washington and Susan Smith Caudill, both were teachers. At age 5 Rebecca Caudill's family left the mountains and moved to Sumner County, TN, were she received her high school education and grew up. She attended Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia for 4 years and received a Masters Degree from Vanderbilt in International Relations. The following year she set out to see the world. She taught English to children of nineteen nationalities. She traveled over most of Europe. Returning to Nashville, she met James Sterling Ayars, also a writer, and they were married in 1931 and settled in Urbana. Mr. and Mrs. Ayars had two children. A son, James Jr., and a daughter, Becky Jean. Ms. Caudill authored 22 books, of which most settings were in Appalachia. Mrs. Ayars describes one morning in February of 1965 as being one of the most thrilling days of her life, when she received a telephone call from Cumberland, KY stating the people in Harlan County had decided to tax themselves to support a library. They could not receive state or federal aid unless they voted a tax. The tax had been voted and Cumberland, KY was soon to have a library and the trustees had decided it was to be called The Rebecca Caudill Public Library!

We are proud of Rebecca Caudill Ayars and to have given the public library her distinguished name, a woman of such literary distinction from our hometown.