THE CHILDREN'S ROOM AND THE CHILDREN'S LIBRARIAN
Some of the principles of library work with children, and the qualifications of a children's librarian were discussed by Miss Eastman in the following paper read at the fourth annual meeting of the Ohio Library Association held in Dayton in 1898. Linda Anne Eastman was born in Oberlin, Ohio, in 1867; was educated in the Cleveland Public Schools, and taught in the public schools of West Cleveland and Cleveland from 1885 to 1892, when she became an assistant in the Cleveland Public Library. In 1895-1896 she was assistant librarian and cataloguer in the Dayton, Ohio, Public Library, and in 1896 became vice-librarian of the Cleveland Public Library, where she has since remained. Since 1904 she has been an instructor in the Library School of Western Reserve University. She was a charter member of the Ohio Library Association, and its president in 1903-1904, Miss Eastman has made frequent contributions to library periodicals.
In the planning of a new library building, or the remodeling of an old one, there is no department to which I should give more thought in the working out of the details than in the children's department, in order to best adapt the arrangement to its use.
Its location in the building is the first matter for consideration. It should be easy of access from the main entrance, or, better still, have an entrance of its own directly from the outside, in order that the noise of the children may not become a disturbing element in the corridors and in other parts of the library. It would seem desirable, also, for many reasons, to have the children's department not too far removed from the main circulating department.
The children's department in a large library should contain at least two large rooms, one for the reading and reference room, the other for the circulating books. The rooms should be light, bright and cheery, as daintily artistic and as immaculately clean as it is possible to make and keep them. Wall cases seem best for the shelving of the books, low enough for the children to reach the shelves easily. These low cases also allow wall space above for pictures, and plenty of this is desirable. A children's room cannot have too many pictures, nor any which are too fine for it; choose for it pictures which are fine, and pictures which "tell a story." Provide, also, plenty of space for bulletins, for the picture bulletins have become an important factor in the direction of the children's reading. One enthusiastic children's librarian wrote me recently that her new "burlap walls, admitting any number of thumb-tacks" were the delight of her heart. There should be reading tables and rubber- tipped chairs, low ones for the little children; and wherever there is space for them, the long, low seats, in which children delight to snuggle down so comfortably.
As to the arrangement of the books, I should divide them into three distinct classes for children of different ages:
(1) The picture books for the very little ones, arranged alphabetically.
(2) The books for children from seven to ten or twelve years of age. While these books should be classified for the cataloging, I should place them on the shelves in one simple alphabetical list by authors, mixing the fiction, history, travel, poetry, etc., just as they might happen to come in this arrangement. I believe this would lead the children to a more varied choice in their reading, and that they would thus read and enjoy biography, history, natural science, etc., before they learned to distinguish them from stories, whereas by the classified arrangement they would choose their reading much more often from the one class only.
(3) The books for boys and girls from ten or twelve years of age to fifteen or sixteen. These should be arranged on the shelves regularly according to class number, in order that the children may become acquainted with the classification and arrangement, learn to select their books intelligently, and be prepared to graduate from here into the adult library.
Where it is possible to duplicate the simple and more common reference books in the juvenile department, these should form a fourth class. Then there should be all of the good juvenile periodicals, with some of the best illustrated papers, such as Harper's weekly, for the reading room.
With many libraries a children's department on such a scale is an impossibility; but if you cannot give two rooms to the children give them one, and if you cannot do that, at least give them a corner and a table which they can feel belongs to them; and if you cannot give them a special assistant, set apart an hour or two each day when the children shall receive the first consideration--establish this as a custom, and both adults and children will be better served.
Whatever one's specialty in library work may be, however far removed from the work with the children, it is well to understand something of the principles which underlie this foundation work with the children.
It is only recently that these principles have begun to shape themselves with any definiteness; the children's department, as a fully equipped miniature library, and the children's librarian, as a specialist bringing natural fitness and special preparation to her work, are essentially the product of today; but they have come to stay, and they open to the child-lover, and the educator who works better outside than inside of the schoolroom limits, a field enticing indeed, and promising rich results. It is to the pioneers in this field, the earnest young women who are now doing careful experimental work and giving serious study to the problems that arise--it is to them that the children's departments of the future will be most indebted for perfected methods.
The library must supplement the influence of the schools, of the home, and of the church; with some children it must even take the place of these other influences, and on its own account it must be a source of pleasure and an intellectual stimulus. If it is to accomplish all or any great part of this, not only for one, but for thousands of children, what serious thought and labor must go to its accomplishment! The children's librarian stands very close to the mother and the teacher in the power she can wield over the lives of the little ones. No one who lacks either the ability or desire to put herself into sympathetic touch with child-life should ever be assigned to work in the juvenile department, and the assistant who avowedly dislikes children, or who "has no patience with them," will work disastrous results if allowed to serve these little ones with an unwilling spirit --she should be relegated to some department of the library to which the sunshine of childhood can never penetrate, and kept there. I would name the following requisites for the successful accomplishment of the juvenile work:
(1) Love for children.
This being given, the way is open for intimate knowledge and understanding of them, which are likewise essential.
(2) Knowledge of children's books.
This is imperative if one is to give the right book to a child at the right time. Familiarity with the titles and with the outsides of the books is not enough, nor is it sufficient to know that a certain book is recommended in all of the best lists of children's books. A child will often refuse to take what has been recommended to him as a good book, when, if he be told some graphic incident in it, or have some interesting bit pointed out or read to him, he will bear it off as prize; with it, too, he will carry away an added respect for, and sense of comradeship with, the assistant, who "knows a good thing when she sees it," and he will come to her for advice and consultation about his books the next time and the next, and so long thereafter as she can hold his confidence.
Carefully prepared lists are most valuable in directing your attention to the best books, but after your notice has been called to them read them, form your own judgment on them, and if you recommend them, at least know why. What? some one asks, attempt to read all of the best children's books? Yes, read them, and do more than that with some; the children's classics, the books which no child can grow up without reading and not be the poorer, with these one should be so familiar as to be able to quote from them or turn instantly to the most fascinating passages--they should form a constant part of her stock in trade. Other books one could not spend so much time on, nor is it necessary--the critical ability to go through a book quickly and catch the salient points in style, treatment and subject matter, is as essential for the children's librarian as for anyone who has to do with many books, and it therefore behooves her to cultivate what I once heard called the sixth sense, the book sense.
(3) Knowledge of library methods.
In any work, interest and enthusiasm go a great way, but they can never wholly take the place of accurate technical knowledge of the best ways of doing things. The more general knowledge of library work and methods one can bring to the children's department, the better it will be both for the work and for the worker; and given these methods, one must have ability to fit them to the conditions and to the peculiar needs to be accomplished, or, where they will not fit, to modify them or originate new ones which are better for the work in hand.
(4) A thorough knowledge of the course of study of the public schools.
This is very necessary in order to intelligently supplement the work of the schools. A child comes wanting information on some subject upon which his ideas are exceedingly vague; for instance, he wants something about the mayor--what, he cannot tell you, but he was sent by his teacher to look up something about the mayor. You ask him what grade he is in, and he tells you the fourth. Your familiarity with the course of study should give you the clue at once, for the fourth grade topics in conduct and government include lessons on the city government, with its principal departments and officers, so you will look up, if you have not already done so, an outline of municipal government describing the position and duties of the mayor, which will be within the comprehension of the child. It should not happen that a dozen children ask for Little white lily, and be turned away without it, before it is discovered to be a poem by George MacDonald which the third grade children are given to read.
This course of study the children's librarian should--not eat and sleep with exactly, but verily live and work with; it is one of her most valuable tools, and she should keep it not only within reach, at her finger's end, but as much as possible at her tongue's end, keeping pace with the assignment of work in the different grades and studies from month to month, and from week to week. She should know beforehand when a certain subject will be taken up by a certain grade, and have all available material looked up and ready, and new books bought if they will be needed and can be had--not wait until several hundred children come upon her for some subject on which a frantic search discloses the fact that the library contains not a thing suitable for their use, and then ask that books be bought, which, of course, come in after the demand is over, and stand idle upon the shelves for a whole year, taking the place of just so many more new books on subjects which will be needed later.
The course of study, too, will furnish more useful hints for bulletins, exhibitions, reading-lists, and other forms of advertising, than can come from any other source; and not only in supplementing the school work, but also in directing the children in their general reading, is an intimate knowledge of the course of study an invaluable aid, as it gives you the unit of measurement for any child which enables you to correlate his reading along certain lines to that which has gone before, and to that which is to follow.
(5) A knowledge of the principles of psychology and of education.
I have placed last the requisite which I feel sure some theorists, at least, would place first, because I believe that, as a rule, it will come last in point of time, and will be worked up to through the preceding stages of the development of the children's librarian; but her work will not be grounded upon a firm foundation until she has consciously mastered these principles, and clearly outlined her own work, this new work of the book, in perfect harmony with them.
There are many features of the children's work which I should like to dwell upon in detail, but I can do no more than mention a few of them. One of these is the Library league, with its threefold object of training the children in the proper care of books, of serving as an advertising medium for the library among the children themselves, and of furnishing a means of directing the reading of hundreds of children who cannot be reached individually. The possibilities of the league are beyond anything we have been able to realize.
Another thing is the necessity of guarding against letting children read too much, or too entirely along one line. There is a habit of reading along lines which deaden, instead of stimulating, thought, and the habit, if carried to excess, becomes a mental dissipation which is utterly reprehensible; but the pathway to this habit is entered upon so innocently and unconsciously by the story-loving child that he (perhaps more often she) must be guided very tenderly and wisely past its dangers; the library which ignores this necessity may have much harm laid at its doors.
The importance of providing, either in the school or the library, for systematic instruction in the use of books was emphasized in the report of the library section of the National Educational Association at Washington this summer; it is a necessity which must be met somewhere and somehow.
Of one more thing I should speak because of its provision for the children--the expansion of the library ideal; not so many years ago branch libraries and traveling libraries were unknown; now we feel that one library is not enough for a large city; it must have branch libraries and delivery stations to take the books to the people, while traveling libraries carry them into the scattered districts in the country. For the future, we have visions of a system of libraries so complete that in no town or country district of the state will a little child be deprived of the pleasure of good books; and wherever it is possible to put a live, warm-hearted, sympathetic and child-loving woman as the medium between the library and the child, it will be done.
Library work in its entirety offers much play for the missionary spirit, but nowhere else in its whole range is there such a labor of love as is hers who tries to bring the children early to their heritage in the beautiful world of books.
 If this paper were now open to revision, the writer would omit "cannot have too many pictures." The reaction against bare, bleak walls may not make it necessary to warn against over-decoration, but its undesirability should be recognized.--L. A. E.