Page images
PDF
EPUB

A canvass should be made from house to house, with a short prospectus or agreement drawn up, pledging the subscribers to give a certain sum toward the foundation of a library. If a few residents with large property can be induced to head the list with liberal subscriptions, it will aid much in securing confidence in the success of the movement, and inducing others to subscribe. No contributions, however small, should fail to be welcomed, since they stand for a wider interest in the object. After a thorough canvass of the residents of the place, a meeting of those subscribing should be called, and a statement put before them of the amount subscribed. Then an executive committee, say of three or five members, should be chosen to take charge of the enterprise. This committee should appoint a chairman, a secretary, and a treasurer, the latter to receive and disburse the funds subscribed. The chairman should call and preside at meetings of the committee, of which the secretary should record the proceedings in a book kept for the purpose.

The first business of the Library committee should be to confer and determine upon the ways and means of organizing the library. This involves a selection of books suitable for a beginning, a place of deposit for them, and a custodian or librarian to catalogue them and keep the record of the books drawn out and returned. Usually, a room can be had for library purposes in some public building or private house, centrally located, without other expense than that of warming and lighting. The services of a librarian, too, can often be secured by competent volunteer aid, there being usually highly intelligent persons with sufficient leisure to give their time for the common benefit, or to share that duty with others, thus saving all the funds for books to enrich the library.

The chief trouble likely to be encountered by a Library committee will lie in the selection of books to form the nucleus or starting point of the collection. Without repeating anything heretofore suggested, it may be said that great care should be taken to have books known to be excellent, both interesting in substance and attractive in style. To so apportion the moderate amount of money at disposal as to give variety and interest to the collection, and attract readers from the start, is a problem requiring good judgment for its solution. Much depends upon the extent of the fund, but even with so small a sum as two or three hundred dollars, a collection of the very best historians, poets, essayists, travellers and voyagers, scientists, and novelists can be brought together, which will furnish a range of entertaining and instructive reading for several hundred borrowers. The costlier encyclopaedias and works of reference might be waited for until funds are recruited by a library fair, or lectures, or amateur concerts, plays, or other evening entertainments.

Another way of recruiting the library which has often proved fruitful is to solicit contributions of books and magazines from families and individuals in the vicinity. This should be undertaken systematically some time after the subscriptions in money have been gathered in. It is not good policy to aim at such donations at the outset, since many might make them an excuse for not subscribing to the fund for founding the library, which it is to the interest of all to make as large as possible. But when once successfully established, appeals for books and periodicals will surely add largely to the collection, and although many of such accessions may be duplicates, they will none the less enlarge the facilities for supplying the demands of readers. Families who have read through all or nearly all the books they possess will gladly bestow them for so useful a purpose, especially when assured of reaping reciprocal benefit by the opportunity of freely perusing a great variety of choice books, new and old, which they have never read. Sometimes, too, a publicspirited citizen, when advised of the lack of a good cyclopaedia, or of the latest extensive dictionary, or collective biography, in the library, will be happy to supply it, thereby winning the gratitude and good will of all who frequent the library. All donations should have inserted in them a neat book-plate, with the name of the donor inscribed, in connection with the name of the Library.

Many a useful library of circulation has been started with a beginning of fifty to a hundred volumes, and the little acorn of learning thus planted has grown up in the course of years to a great tree, full of fruitful and widespreading branches.

CHAPTER 21.

CLASSIFICATION.

If there is any subject which, more than all others, divides opinion and provokes endless controversy among librarians and scholars, it is the proper classification of books. From the beginning of literature this has been a well-nigh insoluble problem. Treatise after treatise has been written upon it, system has been piled upon system, learned men have theorised and wrangled about it all their lives, and successive generations have dropped into their graves, leaving the vexed question as unsettled as ever. Every now and then a body of savans or a convention of librarians wrestles with it, and perhaps votes upon it,

And by decision more embroils the fray" since the dissatisfied minority, nearly as numerous and quite as obstinate as the majority, always refuses to be bound by it. No sooner does some sapient librarian, with the sublime confidence of conviction, get his classification house of cards constructed to his mind, and stands rapt in admiration before it, when there comes along some wise man of the east, and demolishes the fair edifice at a blow, while the architect stands by with a melancholy smile, and sees all his household gods lying shivered around him.

Meanwhile, systems of classification keep on growing, until, instead of the thirty-two systems so elaborately described in Edwards's Memoirs of Libraries, we have almost as many as there are libraries, if the endless modifications of them are taken into account. In fact, one begins to realise that the schemes for the classification of knowledge are becoming so numerous, that a classification of the systems themselves has fairly become a desideratum. The youthful neophyte, who is struggling after an education in library science, and thinks perhaps that it is or should be an exact science, is bewildered by the multitude of counsellors, gets a head-ache over their conflicting systems, and adds to it a heart-ache, perhaps, over the animosities and sarcasms which divide the warring schools of opinion.

Perhaps there would be less trouble about classification, if the system-mongers would consent to admit at the outset that no infallible system is possible, and would endeavor, amid all their other learning, to learn a little of the saving grace of modesty. A writer upon this subject has well observed that there is no man who can work out a scheme of classification that will satisfy permanently even himself. Much less should he expect that others, all having their favorite ideas and systems, should be satisfied with his. As there is no royal road to learning, so there can be none to classification; and we democratic republicans, who stand upon the threshold of the twentieth century, may rest satisfied that in the Republic of Letters no autocrat can be allowed.

The chief difficulty with most systems for distributing the books in a library appears to lie in the attempt to apply scientific minuteness in a region where it is largely inapplicable. One can divide and sub-divide the literature of any science indefinitely, in a list of subjects, but such exhaustive sub-divisions can never be made among the books on the shelves. Here, for example, is a "Treatise on diseases of the heart and lungs.” This falls naturally into its two places in the subject catalogue, the one under "Heart," and the second under "Lungs;" but the attempt to classify it on the shelves must fail, as regards half its contents. You cannot tear the book to pieces to satisfy logical classification. Thousands of similar cases will occur, where the same book treats of several subjects. Nearly all periodicals and transactions of societies of every kind refuse to be classified, though they can be catalogued perfectly on paper by analysing their contents. To bring all the resources of the library on any subject together on the shelves is clearly impossible. They must be assembled for readers from various sections of the library, where the rule of analogy or of superior convenience has placed them.

What is termed close classification, it will be found, fails by attempting too much. One of the chief obstacles to its general use is that it involves a too complicated notation. The many letters and figures that indicate position on the shelves are difficult to remember in the direct ratio of their number. The more minute the classification, the more

« PreviousContinue »