« PreviousContinue »
or prose, if learned by repeating it over and over as a whole, will be less tenaciously retained in memory, than if committed in parts.
The highest form of memory is actually unconscious, i. e., that in which what we would recall comes to us spontaneously, without effort or lapse of time in thinking about it. It is this kind of memory that has been possessed by all the notable persons who have been credited with knowing everything, or with never forgetting anything. It is not to be reckoned to their credit, so much as to their good fortune. What merit is there in having a good memory, when one cannot help remembering?
There is one caution to be given to those who are learn. ing to improve a memory naturally weak. When such in one tries to recall a date, or name, or place, or idea, or book, it frequently happens that the endeavor fails utterly. The more he tries, the more obstinately the desired object fails to respond. As the poet Pope wrote about the witless author:
“You beat your pate, and fancy wit will come;
Knock as you please, there's nobody at home.” In these cases, no attempt to force the memory should be made, nor should the attention be kept long on the subject, for this course only injures the faculty, and leads to confusion of mind. To persist in a constantly baffled effort to recover a word, or other forgotten link in memory, is a laborious attempt which is itself likely to cause failure, and induce a distrust of the memory which is far from rational. The forgotten object will probably recur in no long time after, when least expected.
Much discursive reading is not only injurious to the faculty of memory, but may be positively destructive of it. The vast extent of our modern world of reviews, magazines and newspapers, with their immense variety of subjects, dissipates the attention instead of concentrating it, and becomes fatal to systematic thought, tenacious memory, and the acquirement of real knowledge. The mind that is fed upon a diet of morning and evening newspapers, mainly or solely, will become flabby, uncertain, illogical, frivolous, and, in fact, little better than a scatterbrains. As one who listens to an endless dribble of small talk lays up nothing out of all the palaver, which, to use a common phrase, "goes in at one ear, and out at the other," so the reader who continuously absorbs all the stuff which the daily press, under the pretext of "printing the news," inflicts upon us, is nothing benefited in intellectual gifts or permanent knowledge. What does he learn by his assiduous pursuit of these ephemeral will o' the wisps, that only "lead to bewilder, and dazzle to blind?” He absorbs an incredible amount of empty gossip, doubtful assertions, trifling descriptions, apocryphal news, and some useful, but more useless knowledge. The only visible object of spending valuable time over these papers appears to be to satisfy a momentary curiosity, and then the mass of material read passes almost wholly out of the mind, and is never more thought of. Says Coleridge, one of the foremost of English thinkers: "I believe the habit of perusing periodical works may be properly added to the catalogue of anti-mnemonics, or weakeners of the memory."
If read sparingly, and for actual events, newspapers have a value which is all their own; but to spend hours upon them, as many do, is mere mental dissipation.
QUALIFICATIONS OF A LIBRARIAN.
In directing attention to some of the more important elements which should enter into the character and acquirements of a librarian, I shall perhaps not treat them in the order of their relative importance. Thus, some persons might consider the foremost qualification for one aspiring to the position of a librarian to be wide knowledge in literature and science: others would say that the possession of sound common sense is above all things essential; others an excellent and retentive memory; still others might insist that business habits and administrative faculty are all-important; and others again, a zeal for learning and for communicating it to others.
I shall not venture to pronounce what, among the multitude of talents that are requisite to constitute a good librarian, is the most requisite. Suffice it to say, that all of them which I shall notice are important, and that the order of their treatment determines nothing as to which are more and which are less important. So much is expected of librarians that it actually appears as if a large portion of the public were of the opinion that it is the duty of him who has a library in charge to possess himself, in some occult or mysterious way, unknown to the common mind, of all the knowledge which all the books contain.
The Librarian of the British Museum, speaking to a conference of librarians in London, quoted a remark of Pattison, in his "Life of Casaubon," that "the librarian who reads is lost.” This was certainly true of that great scholar Casaubon, who in his love for the contents of the
books under his charge, forgot his duties as a librarian. And it is to a large degree true of librarians in general, that those who pursue their own personal reading or study during library hours do it at the expense of their useful
as librarians. They must be content with such snatches of reading as come in the definite pursuit of some object of research incident to their library work, supplemented by such reading time as unoccupied evenings, Sundays, and annual vacations may give them.
Yet nothing is more common than for applicants for the position of librarians or assistant librarians to base their aspiration upon the foolish plea that they are "so fond of reading", or that they “have always been in love with books." So far from this being a qualification, it may become a disqualification. Unless combined with habits of practical, serious, unremitting application to labor, the taste for reading may seduce its possessor into spending the minutes and the hours which belong to the public, in his own private gratification. The conscientious, the useful librarian, living amid the rich intellectual treasures of centuries, the vast majority of which he has never read, must be content daily to enact the part of Tantalus, in the presence of a tempting and appetizing banquet which is virtually beyond his reach.
But he may console himself by the reflection that comparatively few of the books upon his shelves are so far worth reading as to be essential. "If I had read as many books as other men,” said Hobbes of Malmesbury, "I should have been as ignorant as they.”
If the librarian, in the precious time which is indisputably his, reads a wise selection of the best books, the masterpieces of the literature of all lands, which have been consecrated by time and the suffrages of successive generations of readers, he can well afford to apply to the rest, the short-hand method recommended in a former chapter, and skim them in the intervals of his daily work, instead of reading them. Thus he will become sufficiently familiar with the new books of the day (together with the information about their contents and merits furnished by the literary reviews, which he must read, however sparingly, in order to keep up with his profession) to be able to furnish readers with some word of comment as to most books coming into the Library. This course, or as close an approximation to it as his multifarious duties will permit, will go far to solve the problem that confronts every librarian who is expected to be an exponent of universal knowledge. Always refraining from unqualified praise of books (especially of new ones) always maintaining that impartial att tude toward men and opinions which becomes the librarian, he should act the part of a liberal, eclectic, catholic guide to inquirers of every kind.
And here let me emphasize the great importance to every librarian or assistant of early learning to make the most of his working faculties. He cannot afford to plod along through a book, sentence by sentence, like an ordinary reader. He must learn to read a sentence at a glance. The moment his eye lights upon a title-page he should be able to take it all in by a comprehensive and intuitive mental process. Too much stress cannot be laid upon the every-day habit or method of reading. It makes all the difference between time saved, and time wasted; between efficiency and inefficiency; between rapid progress and standing still, in one's daily work. No pains should be spared, before entering upon the all-engrossing work of a library, to acquire the habit of rapid reading. An eminent librarian of one of the largest libraries was asked whether he did not find a great deal of time to read? His reply was—“I wish that I could ever get as much as one hour