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CHAPTER 11.

ACCESS TO LIBRARY SHELVES.

The matter of free or unrestricted access to the books on the shelves is a vexed question in libraries. Open and unprotected shelves, either in alcoves or the main reading room, while they appear to be a boon to readers, who can thus browse at will through the literary pastures, and turn over volumes at their pleasure, furnish by no means good security for the books. Some of the smaller public libraries protect their books from access by glass doors in front of the shelves, which form also a partial protection against dust. Others again, use wire screen doors, opened, like the others, by lock and key when books are wanted. Both of these arrangements give to readers the advantage of reading the titles on the backs of most of the books in the library, while protecting them from being handled, disarranged, or removed. But they are also open to the objection that they obstruct the prompt service of the books, by just the amount of time it takes to open the doors or screens, and close them again. This trouble and delay may overbalance the supposed advantages. Certainly they must do so in all large libraries, where the frequentation is great, and where every moment's delay in the book service works disadvantage to numerous readers. While private libraries, or quite small public ones, can indulge in the luxury of glass cases, no extensive collection can be managed with the requisite promptitude under their obstructions.

But how to avoid the indiscriminate and usually careless handling of the books on shelves, by the people frequenting the library, and still extend to readers prompt and full service of all the books they wish to consult on any subject, is a problem. In a few of the great libraries, where that modern improvement, the stack system, prevails, the difficulty is solved by the storing of the books in the outside repositories, or iron book-stacks to which readers are not admitted. In this case the reading room is only for books in use by those frequenting it, or is supplied with a selection of reference books simply, the stacks being drawn upon for all the rest. This of course secures the books both from misplacement and from pillage.

In smaller libraries which have no stack system (and this includes by far the greater number) a variety of treatment prevails. Most of them are unprovided with any effective means of guarding the books on the shelves from handling. The result is great insecurity, and inevitable misplacement of books, amounting often to confusion and chaos on the shelves, unless corrected by much daily rearrangement by the librarian or assistants. This consumes much valuable time, which ought to be devoted to other pressing duties.

One remedy is to guard the shelves by a railing of some kind, which cannot be passed, except at the gates or passage-ways provided for the attendants. This simple provision will protect the orderly arrangement as well as the safety of the library-two objects both of cardinal importance. Absolutely free access to all the shelves means, sooner or later, loss to the library. And the books most certain to be taken or mutilated are those which it is costly, or difficult, or in some cases, impossible to replace. The chances of abstracting engravings from books are much greater in the shadow of the shelves, than in the open reading-room, under the eyes of many. In any library but the smaller ones, the difficulties and dangers of unrestricted handling of all the books by the public will be developed in the direct ratio of the size of the library. Nor will it do to admit one class of readers to the shelves, and exclude others. It often happens that persons claiming to have special literary or scientific objects, and who profess that they cannot get along at all by having books brought to them, are favored in their wish to go to the shelves, while others are disfavored. This raises at once the just complaint that invidious distinctions are made. The only safe rule to follow is that of universal free access, or impartial and uniform exclusion from the shelves. In the latter case, no one can complain, especially when made aware that he can have all the works on a given subject brought to his seat in a brief time, and can work upon them to much greater comfort and advantage, seated where there is good light and ample room, than if standing up in the shadow of the shelves to pursue his researches.

It is also to be considered that such disarrangement of books as inevitably follows free admission to the shelves deprives the very persons who claim this privilege, of finding what they seek, until a complete replacement takes place, throughout the library, and this is necessarily a work of time. That it involves much more time and consequent delay than is occasioned by the re-shelving of books used in a day, is apparent when we consider that in the latter case, only the number of volumes actually withdrawn from shelves by the library attendants have to be replaced, and that these are in conveniently assorted piles all ready to go to their respective shelves; while in the other case, the displacement is made by many hands, most of them careless of any convenience but their own, and moreover, the disarranged books are, or are liable to be, scattered on the wrong shelves, thus throwing the entire library into dis

order, requiring great pains, knowledge, and time to repair.

In any well-regulated library, the absence of any book from its place can almost always be accounted for. Thus it is either-1. In the reading room, in use; or 2. Charged out to a borrower; or 3. Sent to the binder for rebinding, or repair; or 4. Reserved for some reader's use; or 5. In temporary use by a cataloguer, or some other library assistant; or 6. Among the books not yet re-shelved from recent use.

Now each of these is a legitimate reason for the absence of any book not found in its place. By search under each of these heads, seriatim, aided by the memory of librarian and assistants, the missing volume should be readily located, and soon availed of for use.

But in the case of books misplaced by readers, no such tracing out of the whereabouts of any volume is effectual, for the reason that the book may have been (and probably is) put on some shelf where it does not belong. And the question, where in an extensive collection, a book-hunter admitted to freely range over all the shelves, and a stranger to the minute classification of books, has misplaced the missing volumes, is an insoluble problem, except by hunting over or handling the entire library.

In this close practical view of the case we have to add to the long list of the enemies of books, formerly enumerated, those who demand a right to browse (as they term it) among the shelves of a public library, and who displace the books they take down to gratify, it may be, only an idle curiosity. Their offence consists, not in being anxious to see the books, but in preventing others from seeing them, by segregating them where neither librarian nor assistants may be able to find them, when called for. The whole question is summed up in the statement that the ability to produce library books when called for, depends strictly upon keeping them in their proper place: and this is quite incompatible with promiscuous handling upon the shelves.

The preservation of order is alike in the interest of the reading public, of the librarian and his assistants, and of the very persons who complain of it as depriving them of library facilities. If library facilities consist in rendering the books in it unfindable, and therefore unavailable to any reader, then the argument for free range of the shelves arrives at a reductio ad absurdum. The true library facilities consist in a classification and a catalogue which arrange the books in systematic order, and keep them there, save when called into use. Thus, and thus only, can those who resort to a public library for actual research, be assured of finding what they want, just when they want it. The time saved to all readers by the sure and steady preservation of an orderly arrangement of the books, is simply incalculable. Multiply the number of volumes out of place by the number of readers who call for them, and you have some idea of the mischief that may be done through the carelessness of a few favored readers, to the whole community of scholars. Of course the considerations here set forth pre-suppose an active and intelligent librarian, and zealous and willing attendants, all ever ready to aid the researches of readers by the most prompt and helpful suggestions, and by dispatch in placing before them what they most need. The one cardinal design of a library—to supply the largest amount of information in the shortest time, is subverted by any disorganizing scheme. If the library be administered on the just principle of "the greatest good to the greatest number," then such individual favoritism should never be allowed.

It may, indeed, be claimed that there is no rule without some valid exceptions; but these exceptions should never

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