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CHAPTER 10.

AIDS TO READERS.

There is one venerable Latin proverb which deserves a wider recognition than it has yet received. It is to the effect that “the best part of learning is to know where to find things.” From lack of this knowledge, an unskilled reader will often spend hours in vainly searching for what a skilled reader can find in less than five minutes. Now, librarians are presumed to be skilled readers, although it would not be quite safe to apply this designation to all of that profession, since there are those among librarians, or their assistants, who are mere novices in the art of reading to advantage. Manifestly, one cannot teach what he does not know: and so the librarian who has not previously travelled the same road, will not be able to guide the inquiripg reader who asks him to point out the way. But if the way has once been found, the librarian, with only a fairly good memory, kept in constant exercise by his vocation, can it again. Still more surely, if he has been through it many times, will he know it intuitively, the moment any question is asked about it.

It is true of the great majority of readers resorting to a library, that they have a most imperfect idea, both of what they want, and of the proper way to find it. The world of knowledge, they know, is vast, and they are quite bewildered by the many paths that lead to some part or other of it, crossing each other in all directions. And among the would-be readers may be found every shade of intelligence, and every degree of ignorance. There is the timid variety, too modest or diffident to ask for any help at all, and so feeling about among the catalogues or other reference-books in a baffled search for information. There is the sciolist variety, who knows it all, or imagines that he does, and who asks for proof of impossible facts, with an assurance born of the profoundest ignorance. Then, too, there is the half-informed reader, who is in search of a book he once read, but has clean forgotten, which had a remarkable description of a tornado in the West, or a storm and ship-wreck at sea, or a wonderful tropical garden, or a thrilling escape from prison, or a descent into the bowels of the earth, or a tremendous snow-storm, or a swarming flight of migratory birds, or a mausoleum of departed kings, or a haunted chamber hung with tapestry, or the fatal caving-in of a coal-mine, or a widely destructive flood, or a hair-breadth escape from cannibals, or a race for life, pursued by wolves, or a wondrous sub-marine grotto, or a terrible forest fire, or any one of a hundred scenes or descriptions, all of which the librarian is presumed, not only to have read, but to have retained in his memory the author, the title, and the very chapter of the book which contained it.

To give some idea of the extent and variety of information which a librarian is supposed to possess, I have been asked, almost at the same time, to refer a reader to the origin of Candlemas day, to define the Pragmatic Sanction, to give, out of hand, the aggregate wealth of Great Britain, compared with that of half-a-dozen other nations, to define the limits of neutrality or belligerent rights, to explain what is meant by the Gresham law, to tell what ship has made the quickest voyage to Europe, when she made it, and what the time was, to elucidate the meaning of the Carolina doctrine, to explain the character and objects of the Knights of the Golden Circle, to tell how large are the endowments of the British Universities, to give the origin of the custom of egg-rolling, to tell the meaning of the cipher dispatches, to explain who was "Extra Billy Smith," to tell the aggregate number killed on all sides during the Napoleonic wars, to certify who wrote the “Vestiges of Creation," or, finally, to give the author of one of those innumerable ancient proverbs, which float about the world without a father.

The great number and variety of such inquiries as are propounded by readers should not appal one. Nor should one too readily take refuge from a troublesome reader by the plea, however convenient, that the library contains nothing on that subject. While this may unquestionably be true, especially as regards a small public library, it should never be put forward as a certainty, until one has looked. Most inquiring readers are very patient, and being fully sensible how much they owe to the free enjoyment of the library treasures, and to the aid of the superintendent of them, they are willing to wait for information. However busy you may be at the moment, the reader can be asked to wait, or to call at a less busy time, when you will be prepared with a more satisfactory answer than can be given on the spur of the moment. What cannot be done to-day, may often be done to-morrow. Remember always, that readers are entitled to the best and most careful service, for a librarian is not only the keeper, but the interpreter of the intellectual stores of the library. It is a good and a safe rule to let no opportunity of aiding a reader escape. One should be particularly careful to volunteer help to those who are too new or too timid to ask: and it is they who will be most grateful for any assistance. The librarian has only to put himself in their place-(the golden rule for a librarian, as for all the world besides), and to consider how often, in his own searches in libraries, in the continual, never-ending quest of knowledge, he would have been thankful for a hint from some one who knew, or had been over the ground of his search before; and then he will feel the full value to the novice, of such knowledge as he can impart.

He is not to forget that his superior opportunities for learning all about things, with a whole library at command, and within elbow-reach every hour of the day, should impose upon him a higher standard of attainment than most readers are supposed to have reached. In the intervals of library work, I am accustomed to consider the looking up of subjects or authorities as one of my very best recreations. It is as interesting as a game of whist, and much more profitable. It is more welcome than routine labor, for it rests or diverts the mind, by its very variety, while, to note the different views or expressions of writers on the same subject, affords almost endless entertainment. In tracing down a quotation also, or the halfremembered line of some verse in poetry, you encounter a host of parallel poetic images or expressions, which contribute to aid the memory, or to feed the imagination. Or, in pursuing a sought-for fact in history, through many volumes, you learn collaterally much that may never have met your eye before. Full, as all libraries are, of what we call trash, there is almost no book which will not give us something,-even though it be only the negative virtue of a model to be avoided. One may not, indeed, always find what he seeks, because it may not exist at all, or it may not be found in the limited range of his small library, but he is almost sure to find something which gives food for thought, or for memory to note. And this is one of the foremost attractions, let me add, of the librarian's calling; it is more full of intellectual variety, of wideopen avenues to knowledge, than any other vocation what

His daily quests in pursuit of information to lay before others, bring him acquainted with passages that are full of endless suggestion for himself. He may not be able to pursue any of these avenues at the moment; but he should make a mental or a written note of them, for future benefit. His daily business being learning, why should he not in time, become learned? There are, of course, among the infinitude of questions, that come before the librarian, some that are really insoluble problems. One of these is to be found among the topics of inquiry I just now suggested; namely: what is the aggregate wealth of Great Britain, or that of other nations? This is a question frequently asked by inquiring Congressmen, who imagine that an answer may readily be had from one of those gifted librarians who is invested with that apocryphal attribute, commonly called omniscience. But the inquirer is suddenly confronted by the fact (and a very stubborn fact it is) that not a single foreign nation has ever taken any census of wealth whatever. In Great Britain (about which country inquiry as to the national resources more largely centres) the government wisely lets alone the attempt to tabulate the value of private wealth, knowing that such an object is utterly impracticable.

ever.

But, while the British census makes no attempt at estimating the property of the people, the independent estimates of statistical writers vary hopelessly and irreconcilably. Mr. J. R. McCulloch, one of the foremost accredited writers on economic science, lays it down as a dictum, that "sixty years is the shortest time in which the capital of an old and densely-peopled country can be expected to be doubled.” Yet Joseph Lowe assumes the wealth of the United Kingdom to have doubled in eighteen years, from 1823 to 1841; while George R. Porter, in his widely-accredited book on the “Progress of the Nation,” and Leoni Levi, a publicist of high reputation, make

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