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SOME OF THE USES OF LIBRARIES.
Let us now consider the subject of the uses of public libraries to schools and those connected with them. Most town and city libraries are supported, like the free schools, by the public money, drawn from the tax-payers, and supposed to be expended for the common benefit of all the people. It results that one leading object of the library should be to acquire such a collection of books as will be in the highest degree useful to all. And especially should the wants of the younger generation be cared for, since they are always not only nearly one half of the community, but they are also to become the future citizens of the republic. What we learn in youth is likely to make a more marked and lasting impression than what we may acquire in later years. And the public library should be viewed as the most important and necessary adjunct of the school, in the instruction and improvement of the young. Each is adapted to supply what the other lacks. The school supplies oral instruction and public exercises in various departments of learning; but it has few or no books, beyond the class text-books which are used in these instructions. The library, on the other hand, is a silent school of learning, free to all, and supplying a wide range of information, in books adapted to every age. It thus supplements, and in proportion to the extent and judicious choice of its collections, helps to complete that education, which the school falls short of. In this view, we see the great importance of making sure that the public library has not only a full supply of the best books in every field, avoiding (as previously urged) the bad or the inferior ones, but also that it has the best juvenile and elementary literature in ample supply. This subject of reading for the young has of late years come into unprecedented prominence. Formerly, and even up to the middle of our century, very slight attention was paid to it, either by authors or readers. Whole generations had been brought up on the New England Primer, with its grotesque wood-cuts, and antique theology in prose and verse, with a few moral narratives in addition, as solemn as a meeting-house, like the “Dairyman's Daughter," the "History of Sandford and Merton," or "The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain." Very dreary and melancholy do such books appear to the frequenters of our modern libraries, filled as they now are with thousands of volumes of lively and entertaining juvenile books.
The transition from the old to the new in this class of literature was through the Sunday-school and religious tract society books, professedly adapted to the young. While some of these had enough of interest to be fairly readable, if one had no other resource, the mass were irredeemably stale and poor. The mawkishness of the sentiment was only surpassed by the feebleness of the style. At last, weary of the goody-goody and artificial school of juvenile books, which had been produced for generations, until a surfeit of it led to something like a nausea in the public mind, there came a new type of writers for the young, who at least began to speak the language of reason. The dry bones took on some semblance of life and of human nature, and boys and girls were painted as real boys and genuine girls, instead of lifeless dolls and manikins. The reformation went on, until we now have a world of books for the young to choose from, very many of which are fresh and entertaining.
But the very wealth and redundancy of such literature is a new embarrassment to the librarian, who must indispensably make a selection, since no library can have or ought to have it all. Recurring to the function of the public library as the coadjutor of the school, let us see what classes of books should form essential parts of its stores.
1. As geography, or an account of the earth on which we live, is a fundamental part of education, the library should possess a liberal selection of the best books in that science. The latest general gazetteer of the world, the best modern and a good ancient atlas, one or more of the great general collections of voyages, a set of Baedeker's admirable and inexpensive guide books, and descriptive works or travels in nearly all countries—those in America and Europe predominating-should be secured. The scholars of all grades will thus be able to supplement their studies by ready reference, and every part of the globe will lie open before them, as it were, by the aid of the library.
2. The best and latest text-books in all the sciences, as geology, chemistry, natural history, physios, botany, agriculture, mechanic arts, mathematics, mental and moral science, architecture, fine arts, music, sociology, political science, etc., should be accessible.
3. Every important history, with all the latest manuals or elementary books in general and national history should be found.
4. The great collections of biography, with separate lives of all noted characters, should be provided.
5. Dictionaries, cyclopaedias, statistical annuals, and other books of reference will be needed in abundance.
6. A small but select number of approved works in law, medicine, and theology should be embraced in the library.
7. I need not add that the poets and novelists should be well represented, as that goes without saying in all popular libraries.
And special attention should be paid to building up a collection of the best books for juvenile readers, such as have passed the ordeal of good critical judgment among the librarians, as eminently fit to be read. There are several useful catalogues of such reading, as: Caroline M. Hewins” “Books for the Young,”G. E. Hardy’s “Five Hundred Books for the Young," and the admirable "List of Books for Girls and Women" by Augusta H. Leypoldt and Geo. Iles, contributed to by many experts, and copiously supplied with notes describing the scope and quality of the books. The last two are published by the Library Bureau.
With this broad equipment of the best books in every field, and vigilance in constant exercise to add fresh stores from the constantly appearing and often improved textbooks in every science, the library will be a treasury of knowledge both for teachers and pupils in the schools. And the fact should not be overlooked, that there will be found as much growth for teachers as for scholars in such a collection of books. Very few teachers, save those of well-furnished minds and of much careful reading, are competent to guide their scholars into the highways and byways of knowledge, as the librarian should be able to do.
To establish a relation of confidence and aid with teachers is the preliminary step to be taken in order to make the library at once practically useful to them and to their scholars. In case there are several public schools in charge of a general superintendent, that officer should be first consulted, and tendered the free aid of the library and its librarian for himself and the teachers. In some public libraries, the school superintendent is made an ex officio member of the library board. Then suitable regulations should be mutually agreed upon, fixing the number of books to be drawn on account of the schools at any one time, and the period of return to the library. It is most usual to charge such books on teachers' cards, or account, to fix responsibility, although the teachers loan them to the scholars at their option.
In places where there are no school libraries proper, the public library will need to provide a goodly number of duplicates, in order to meet the special school demand. This, however, will usually be of low-priced rather than costly books, as the elementary text-books do not draw heavily upon library funds.
A very attractive feature in providing books for the young is the large number of illustrated books now available to all libraries. All the kingdoms of nature are depicted in these introductory manuals of science, rendering its pursuit more interesting, and cultivating the habits of observation of form and of proportion, in the minds of the young. Pupils who have never accomplished anything in school have been roused by interest in illustrated natural histories to take an eager interest in learning all about birds and animals. This always leads on and up to other study, since the mind that is once awakened to observation and to thought, needs only a slight guidance to develop an unappeasable hunger for finding out all about things.
The ancient maxim that “it is only the first step that costs" is especially true in the great art of education. It matters little what it is that first awakens the intellectthe great fact is that it is awakened, and sleeps no more thenceforward. A mottled bird's egg, found on the way to school, excites the little finder to ascertain the name of the bird that laid it. The school or the teacher supplies no means of finding out, but the public library has books upon birds, with colored plates of their eggs, and an eager search ensues, until the young student is rewarded by finding the very bird, with its name, plumage, habits, size, and season, all described. That child has taken an enormous step for