LIBRARY MEMBERSHIP AS A CIVIC FORCE
One of the sessions of the Children's librarians section of the A. L. A. meeting at Minnetonka in 1908 was given up to the discussion of the place of children's library work in the community. The library point of view was presented by Miss Moore.
Annie Carroll Moore was born in Limerick, Maine, and was graduated from Limerick Academy in 1889 and Bradford Academy in 1891. After completing her work in the Pratt Institute Library School in 1896 she became children's librarian in the Pratt Free Library where she remained until 1906. She then organized the children's department in the New York Public Library, of which she is still supervisor. Miss Moore has lectured on library work with children and has contributed many articles on the subject to library periodicals.
Fifteen years ago the Minneapolis public library opened a children's room from which books were circulated. Previous to 1893 a reading room for children was opened in the Brookline (Mass.) public library but the Minneapolis public library was the first to recognize the importance of work with children by setting aside a room for their use with open shelf privileges and with a special assistant in charge of it.
Since 1893 children's rooms and children's departments have sprung up like mushrooms, all over the country, and first in Pittsburg, then in Brooklyn, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York City and Queens Borough, children's rooms in branch libraries have been organized into departments from which a third, at least, of the entire circulation of the libraries is carried on by assistants, either trained or in training to become children's librarians.
It has been the inevitable accompaniment of such rapid growth that the work should suffer growing pains in the form of criticism and even caricature at the hands of casual observers and clever writers. Those of us who have been identified with the movement since its inception have somehow managed to preserve our faith in a survival of the fittest by remembering that there was a time when everything was new, and have felt that if we could keep a firm grip on the active principles which inspire all successful work with children, whether it is the work of a small independent library or that of a large system of libraries, our labor was not likely to be lost. The children, the books and ourselves are the three elements to be combined and the success of the combination does not depend upon time, nor place, nor circumstance. It depends upon whether we have a clear vision of our surroundings and are able to adapt ourselves to them, a growing appreciation of the value of books to the persons who read them, and the power of holding the interest and inspiring the respect and confidence of children.
If we can do all these things for a period of years we have little need to worry about the future success of the work. The boys and girls will look after that. In many instances they have already begun to look after it and the best assurance for the future maintenance of free libraries in America rests with those who, having tried them and liked them during the most impressionable years of their lives, believe in the value of them for others as well as for themselves to the extent of being ready and willing to support them.
In passing from a long and intimate experience in the active work of a children's room in an independent library to the guidance of work in the children's rooms of a system of branch libraries, a great deal of thought has been given to deepening the sense of responsibility for library membership by regarding every form of daily work as a contributory means to this end.
The term "library membership" is a survival of the old subscription library but it defines a much closer relationship than the terms "borrower" or "user" and broadens rather than restricts the activities of a free library by making it seem more desirable to "belong to the library" than to "take out books."
It is the purpose of this paper to present in outline for discussion such aspects of the work as may help to substantiate the claim of its ambitious and perhaps ambigious title: Library Membership as a Civic Force.
1. Our first and chief concern is with the selection of books and right here we are confronted by so many problems that we might profitably spend the entire week discussing them.
In general, the selection of books for a children's room which is seeking to make and to sustain a place in the life of a community should offer sufficient variety to meet the needs and desires of boys and girls from the picture book age to that experience of life which is not always measured by years nor by school grade but is tipified by a Jewish girl under 14 years old, who, on being asked how she liked the book she had just read, "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm," said to the librarian, "It's not the kind of book you would enjoy yourself, is it?", and on being answered in the affirmative, tactfully stated her own point of view: "Well, you see it is just this way, children have their little troubles and grown people have their great troubles. I guess it's the great troubles that interest me." We have been quick to recognize the claim of the foreign boy or girl who is learning our language and studying our history but we are only just beginning to recognize the claims of those, who, having acquired the language, are seeking in books that which they are experiencing in their own natures. Human nature may be the same the world over, but there is a vast difference in its manifestations between the ages of ten and sixteen in a New England village or town and in a foreign neighborhood of one of our large cities.
The selection of adult books in all classes, especially in biography, travel, history and literature is too limited in the children's rooms of many libraries and should be enlarged to the point of making the shelves of classed books look more like those of a library and less like those of a school room. Titles in adult fiction should include as much of Jane Austen as girls will read and an introduction to Barrie in "Peter Pan" and the "Little Minister." "Jane Eyre" will supply the demand for melodrama in its best form, while "Villette," and possibly "Shirley," may carry some girls far enough with Charlotte Bronte to incline them to read her life by Mrs. Gaskell. William Black's "Princess of Thule" and "Judith Shakespeare" will find occasional readers. "Lorna Doone" will be more popular, although there are girls who find it very tedious. There should be a full set of Dickens in an edition attractive to boys and girls. A complete set of the Waverly novels in a new large print edition, well paragraphed and well illustrated, with the introductions left out and with sufficient variation in the bindings to present an inviting appearance on the shelves would lead, I believe, to a very much more general reading of Scott.
Conan Doyle's "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," "The Refugees," "The White company," "Micah Clarke" and "At the Sign of the four" will need no urging, nor will Dumas' "Count of Monte Cristo," "The Three guardsmen" and "The Black tulip." "Les Miserables" and "The Mill on the Floss" will fully satisfy the demand for "great troubles," treated in a masterly fashion. We should include Thackeray's "Henry Esmond," "The Newcomes" and "The Virginians"; Bulwer's "Last Days of Pompeii," "Harold," "Rienzi" and "The Last of the barons"; Charles Kingsley's "Westward Ho," "Hereward the Wake" and "Hypatia"; Charles Reade's "Cloister and the hearth," "Peg Woffington," "Foul play" and "Put yourself in his place"; Besant's "All sorts and conditions of men" and "The Children of Gibeon"; Wilkie Collins' "The Moonstone" and "The Woman in white" as many of Robert Louis Stevenson's stories as will be read "Cranford" and "The Vicar of Wakefield" with the Hugh Thomson illustrations; Miss Mulock's "John Halifax," "A Noble life," "A Brave lady" and "A Life for a life"; Lever's "Charles O'Malley" and "Harry Lorrequer", Lew Wallace's "Ben Hur" and "The Fair god"; Stockton's "Rudder Grange," "The Casting away of Mrs. Lecks and Mrs. Aleshine" and "The Adventures of Captain Horn"; Mrs. Stowe's "Uncle Tom's cabin" and "Oldtown folks"; Howells' "Lady of the Aroostook," "A Chance acquaintance," "The Quality of mercy" and "The Rise of Silas Lapham"; Gilbert Parker's "Seats of the mighty" and "When Valmond came to Pontiac"; Paul Leicester Ford's "The Honorable Peter Stirling"; Richard Harding Davis' "Van gibber," "Gallagher," "Soldiers of fortune" and "The Bar sinister"; Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's mines" and "Allen Quartermain"; Weir Mitchell's "Hugh Wynne", Marion Crawford's "Marietta", "Marzio's crucifix", and "Arethusa"; Kipling's "The Day's work", "Kim" and "Many inventions" and, if they have been removed as juvenile titles, I think we should restore "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" under the head of adult fiction.
Other titles will be freely and frequently used in a children's room, which is taking into active account the interests of its users and is seeking to establish a genuine taste for good reading which will not be abandoned later on as artificial or forced. In general, the principle of selection should be to provide the best standard novels in order that the boys and girls who go out from the children's room may know what good novels are and so much of modern fiction as shall serve to give the collection the appearance of being interesting and up to date without lowering the standard of that taste for good reading which is the chief purpose in shelving such a collection in a children's room. The presence of the books is good for the children's librarian as well as for the children and it goes without saying that she must be familiar with them if she is to use them intelligently.
The point to stop in the purchase of books designed for supplementary reading is with the smallest number that will meet the active demands which are not met by REAL books. We may well stop with the third book in most cases of purchase of books in sets. Does anybody know whether informational readers on the shelves of a children's room leads to genuine interest in the subject so presented? To quote one boy's opinion of nature readers, "The nature you get in books is the most disinteresting subject there is." The cheapness of these publications has led to a larger duplication of them in libraries than seems desirable for the best interests of the work. We need in place of them such books, with certain modifications in treatment, as were indicated by Dr. Stanley Hall in his recent and very suggestive address on Reading as a factor in the education of children (Library Journal, April, 1908). Most of all do we need a series of books which will put foreign children and their parents in touch and in sympathy with the countries from which they came by spirited illustrations in color of street scenes, festivals and scenes from home life accompanied by simple direct statements and with translations of such stories and poems as may aid in making and keeping the impressions of their country vivid and lasting. There has been a rising wave of production of primers and first reading books during the past five years. Some libraries have experienced a primer craze and it becomes exceedingly difficult to decide which ones to buy and bow freely to duplicate them. Primers and "easy books" have a use for children who are learning to read but too free a use of them may be one of the influences responsible for that lack of power of sustained attention and limitation in vocabulary which is frequently shown by boys and girls from twelve to fourteen years old.
The edition in which a book for children appears is a matter of very much greater importance than is realized by those who view the work from a distance. It is not purely an aesthetic consideration. It has a very practical bearing on whether the book will be read or not and libraries which have the least money to spend should be most careful to spend it for books in editions which are attractive to children.
2. The only thoroughly successful means of securing respect and good care of library books is for libraries to maintain higher standards of excellence in respect to intelligent repairing and binding, to discard promptly a book which is to any extent mutilated or which is so soiled as to make it seem unwarrantable to ask a boy to wash his hands before touching it. The books on the circulating shelves should be the most attractive part of a children's room. That it is possible to make and to keep them so is not a theory but a demonstrable fact. Three years ago a branch library was opened in one of the poor districts of a large city. The usual problems in the discipline of individuals and of gangs were present. Many of the new books were soiled, others were mutilated and several were missing at inventory taking. The librarian believed the moral lesson conveyed to children by training them to take care of library books to be one of the first requirements of good citizenship. She determined that no boy or girl should be able to say: "I took it that way", in returning a soiled or mutilated book. In order to carry out her ideas to a successful issue it has been necessary for her to inspire her entire staff with a sense of the value of such training and to impress upon them that careful handling of books by library assistants is the first requisite to securing like care on the part of the children. Every book is examined at the time it is returned and before it is placed on the shelves it is given such repair as it may need. By careful washing, skillful varnishing and by the use of a preparation for removing grease spots many books are given an extended turn of service without lowering the standards established. Paper covers are provided as wrappers on rainy days and on sticky days. Such care of books requires time and sustained interest but I believe that it pays in the immediate as well as in the future results, when grown into men and women, the boys and girls who were taught this first lesson in citizenship will look back upon it with feelings of respect and satisfaction.
The cost to the library is less in expenditure for books and for service. The library mentioned affords direct evidence that loss of books by theft is very largely controlled by such simple means provided the means are consciously and consistently related to the larger end of regarding the property rights of others. It is interesting to note that three-fourths of its membership has been sustained during the three years.
3. In dealing with large numbers of children of foreign parentage it is evident that we need to define their relationship to the library more clearly than we have done as yet. Quite frequently they do not distinguish between the building and the books and refer to the latter as "taking libraries". Now "taking a library" home is a very different matter from playing a part in the life of a civic institution and the parents as well as the boys and girls are quick to feel a difference which they are not always able to express in words. Quite early in my experience this was brought home to me by a visit from the mother of a Jewish boy who had been coming to the children's room for about a year. She came on a busy Saturday afternoon and after looking about the room seated herself near the desk while the boy selected his books. As Leopold always tested the interest of several books before committing himself to a choice the visit lasted the entire afternoon. When they were ready to go she explained why she had come. She had been curious to discover for herself, she said, what it was Leopold got from the Library that made him so much easier to get on with at home. He had grown more thoughtful of his younger brothers and sisters, more careful of his books and other belongings and more considerate of his mother. "I wouldn't have him know the difference I see," she continued, "but he told me you were always asking him to bring me here and I made up my mind to come and see for myself and I have.
"These children are learning how to BEHAVE in PUBLIC as well as how to choose good books and I think it comes from the feeling they have of belonging to the Library, and being treated in the way they like, whether they are as young as my Simon, who is six years old, or as old as Leopold, who will be fourteen next month. If they were all boys of Leopold's age it would be the same as it is at school; but having the younger ones here makes it more as it is at home."
Should it not be the plan and purpose of a children's room to make every boy and girl feel at home there from the moment of signing an application blank? Forms of application blanks and the manner of registration differ in nearly every library. Whatever form is used, personal explanation is always essential and it does not seem worth while to advocate a simplified form for the use of children. I believe there are very decided advantages in a system of registration which requires the children to write their own names in a book. The impression made upon their memories is distinctly different and more binding than that made by writing the name on a slip of paper and has frequently been of great service in cases of discipline as the signature is headed by a reminder of obligations:
"When I write my name in this book I promise to take good care of all the books I read in the Library and of those I take home and to obey the rules of the Library." Such a method of registration is not impractical, even in a large library provided the work is carefully planned to admit of it.
Recent inquiries and investigation show very convincingly that a large proportion of parents, both foreign born and American, and a considerable number of educators, social workers and persons connected with libraries in England and in this country, have exceedingly hazy ideas respecting the work public libraries are doing for children. The issue of an admirable illustrated hand book on "The Work of the Cleveland public library with children" and the means used to reach them, should make clear to the latter whatever has seemed vague or indefinite in the work.
But there are many parents in large cities and in manufacturing towns, who cannot be induced to visit libraries and see for themselves as Leopold's mother did, and they are frequently averse to having their children go to a place they know nothing about, believing that they are being drawn away from their school tasks by the mere reading of story books. How is it possible to stimulate their curiosity and interest to the point of making a Library seem desirable and even necessary in the education of their children to become citizens and wage earners? Printed explanations and rules issued by libraries are either not read or not understood by the majority of persons to whom they are addressed. There is something very deadening to the person of average intelligence about most printed explanations of library work. Pictures which bring the work before people from the human side might be more successful and I wish to submit an outline for a pictorial folder designed to accompany an application blank to the home of an Italian child.
DESCRIPTION OF FOLDER
In size it is five inches long and three inches wide. On the outer cover appears a picture of the exterior of the library, underneath the picture the name of the library, its location and the hours it is open.
On the first page a picture of the children's room with this inscription underneath:
Boys and Girls come here to read and to study their lessons for school. Picture Books for little children.
On the second page a picture of the adult department, showing its use and giving the information all foreigners seem desirous to have:
Men and Women come here to read and to study.
Books on the Laws and Customs of America.
Books, Papers and Magazines in Italian and other foreign languages.
Books from which to learn to read English.
On the back of the cover these simple directions:
HOW TO JOIN THE LIBRARY
The use of the Library is Free to anyone who comes to Read or to Study in its rooms.
If you wish to take Books home you must sign an application blank and give the name and address of some one who knows you.
The information on the folder should be given in the language or languages of the neighborhood in which the library is situated.
This folder was designed for a branch library in an Italian neighborhood but a similar folder might be utilized in any community provided the information is given in simple, direct form and the pictures show the Library with people using it.
4. Joining the library is not all. However carefully and impressively the connection is made we are all conscious of those files of cards "left by borrower," which indicate that a connection must be sustained if library membership is to prove its claim as a civic force. There are those who regard a restriction of circulation to one or two story books a week as a desirable means to this end, believing that interest in reading is heightened by such limitation. That many boys and girls read too much we all know, but I am inclined to think that whatever restriction is made should be made for the individual rather than laid down as a library rule. Other libraries advocate a remission of fines, at the same time imposing a deprivation in time of such length that it would seem to defeat the chief end of the children's room which is to encourage the reading habit. Children who leave their cards for six months at a time are not likely to be very actively interested in their library. There seem to be three viewpoints regarding fines for children.
1. Children should be required to pay their fines as a lesson in civic righteousness. Persons holding this view would allow the working out of fines under some circumstances but regard the fine as a debt.
2. Any system of fines is a wrong one, therefore all fines should be remitted and some other punishment for negligence substituted. Persons holding this view would deprive children of the use of the library for a stated period.
3. A fine is regarded as slightly punitive and probably the most effective means of teaching children to respect the rights of others in their time use of books. Persons holding this view would reduce the fine to one cent, wherever a fine is exacted and would exercise a great deal of latitude in dealing with individual cases, remitting or cutting down fines whenever it seems wise to do so and imposing brief and variable time deprivations of the use of the library rather than a long fixed period.
Whatever viewpoint is taken it will be necessary to remind children constantly that by keeping their books overtime other boys and girls are being deprived of the reading of them.
One of the most effective means of sustaining and promoting such a sense of library membership as I have indicated is the extension of reading-room work by placing on open, or on closed shelves, if necessary, a collection of the best children's books in the best editions obtainable, to be used as reading-room books. Children may be so trained in the careful handling of these books as to become very much more careful of their treatment of the book they take home and the experiment is not a matter of large expense to the library. The reading-room books should never be allowed to become unsightly in appearance if they are to do their full work in the room as an added attraction to the children and as suggestive to parents, teachers and other visitors who may wish to purchase books as gifts.
The value of a well conducted Story hour or Reading club as a means of sustaining the library connection and of influencing the spontaneous choice of books by boys and girls has not been fully recognized because it has been only partially understood. There are various methods of conducting Story hours and Reading clubs. There are many differences of opinion as to whether the groups should be large or small, differentiated by age or by sex, whether the groups should be made up entirely of children or whether an occasional adult may be admitted without changing the relation between the story teller and the children. Those who desire suggestion of material and specific information as to method and practice will find much that is valuable and practical in the publication of the Carnegie library of Pittsburg and in the Handbook of the Cleveland public library. Those who are seeking to place a Story hour in work already established will do well to remember that it is a distinctly social institution and as such is bound to be colored by the personality of its originator whether she tells the stories herself or finds others to carry out her ideas. Make your Story hour the simple and natural expression of the best you have to give and do not attempt more than you can perform. I believe the Story hour is the simplest and most effective means of enlisting the interest of parents and of stirring that active recollection of their own childhood which leads to sharing its experiences with their children. Folk tales told in the language his father and mother speak should give to the child of foreign parentage a feeling of pride in the beautiful things of the country his parents have left in place of the sense of shame with which he too often regards it. The possibilities in this field are unlimited if wisely directed.
The value of exhibits depends upon the subject chosen and the exercise of imagination, good taste and practical knowledge of children's tastes in selecting and arranging the objects or pictures. The subject must be one which makes an immediate appeal to the passing visitor. There should not be too much of it and it should not be allowed to remain too long in the room. A single striking object is often more effective than a collection of objects. Some interpretation of an exhibit in the form of explanation or story is needed if the children are to become very much interested in reading about a subject.
To those who believe that Story hours, Clubs, Exhibits, and Picture bulletins are not "legitimate library work," I would say, suspend your judgment until you have watched or studied the visible effects of such work in a place where it is properly related to the other activities of the library and to the needs of the community in which it is situated. If by the presence of an Arctic exhibit in an Italian and Irish-American non-reading neighborhood an interest is stimulated which results in the circulation and the reading of several hundred books on the subject during the time of the exhibition and for months afterward, the exhibit certainly seems legitimate.
5. Since it is true that social conditions, racial characteristics and individuality in temperament enter very actively into the problems of the care of children in libraries and since it is also true that the books children read and the care which is given to them in libraries are frequently reflected in their conduct in relation to the School, the Church, the Social settlement, the Playground, the Juvenile court and to civic clubs as well as to the Home, a more enlightened conception of the work of all these institutions is essential if the Children's library is to play its full part in the absorption of children of different nations into a larger national life. This need is being recognized and partially met by lecture courses and by the practice work of students in library training schools but listening to lectures, reading, and regulated student practice does not take the place of that spontaneous eagerness to see for one's self, the social activities of a neighborhood or town which makes a library in its town a place of living interest. Librarians, en masse, in relation to other institutions, stand in a similar position to that of the representative of those institutions. On both sides a firsthand knowledge of the aims and objects and methods of work of all the forces at work in a given community and a perception of their interrelationship is essential if we wish to do away with the present tendency to duplicate work which is already being carried on by more effective agencies. How far a library should go in relating its work to that of other institutions it is impossible to prescribe. The aim should be to make its own work so clear to the community in which it is placed that it will command the respect and the support of every citizen.