THE LIBRARY AND THE CHILDREN: AN ACCOUNT OF THE CHILDREN'S WORK IN THE CLEVELAND PUBLIC LIBRARY
The interesting experiment of conducting a Library League is described by Miss Linda A. Eastman in the following account of the children's work in the Cleveland Public Library. A sketch of Miss Eastman appears on page 159.
Work with the children assumed its first real importance in the Cleveland Public Library when the library began, about 10 years ago, to issue books to the teachers for reissue to their pupils. This brought the books to the hands of thousands of children who had never drawn them before, although at no time has the library been able to furnish all of the books asked for by the teachers. The next step came with the establishment of our branches, where it was soon noticed that a most important part of the work done was that with the children, and that very few of these children had ever used the main library.
Early in 1897 a notable change was made at the main library in bringing all of the juvenile books together in what was known as the juvenile alcove, but which heretofore had contained the juvenile fiction only, the classed books having been shelved with the other books on the same subject. This change meant much planning and shifting in our cramped quarters, and writing of dummies and changing of records for every book; but it proved to be well worth all the work, for the children seldom went beyond this alcove, and those who had been reading fiction only, began to vary it with history, travel, science, until about half of the books issued from the department are now from the other classes.
During the Christmas holidays, 1896, we advertised "Children's week," and the numbers and evident enjoyment of the children who then accepted the invitation to visit the library or its branches, led to similar plans for the spring vacation. At this time we were able to put into circulation about a thousand bright new books, and the desire to impress upon the children the necessity for their proper care resulted in starting the Library League, the general plan of which is so familiar that I need not go fully into the details concerning it.
Without question, the labor spent upon the Library League has been more than repaid in the greater care which the children take of their library books. Dirt is at a discount; it is noticed that many more children than formerly now stop to choose the cleanest copy of a book, and many are the books reported daily by the little people as being soiled or torn. A boy, not long ago, brought a book up to the information-desk, reported a loose leaf, then very seriously, by way of explanation, opened his overcoat and displayed his league badge; another replied in all good faith to a query about a damaged book, "Why, I belong to the Library League"--proof quite sufficient, he thought, to clear him of any doubt. Most of the children stop at the wrapping- counter before leaving the library, to tie up their books in the wrapping paper which is provided, and which saves many a book from a mud-bath on its way to or from the library.
But aside from the better care of the books, the Library League has done much as an advertising medium among the children; the league now numbers 14,354, and many of its members had never used the library until they joined the league. Something has been accomplished through it, too, in directing the reading of the children, as it gives opportunities, in many ways, for making suggestions which they are glad to accept. At the South Side branch a club-room has been finished off in the basement, and two clubs formed among the members of the league: one, a Travel Club, is making a tour of England this winter; the other is a Biography Club, which is studying great Americans; the children who compose these two clubs are largely of foreign parentage, almost without exception from uncultured homes, and the work our earnest branch librarian is beginning with them cannot fail in its effect on these young lives. A boy's club-room is to be fitted up at the new West Side branch, in addition to the children's room, which is already proving inadequate.
The Maxson book marks have been very useful in connection with the league, and have suggested a series of book marks which will also serve as bulletins for league notes, little lists of good books, suggestions about reading, etc. The color will be changed each time, as variety is pleasing to children. The
Cleveland Public Library. LIBRARY LEAGUE BOOK MARK NO. 1.
Boys and Girls: How would you like to have a new book mark every month or two with Library League news, and suggestions about good books? That is what the Library is going to try to give you. Read this one through, use it until you get the next one, which will be Library League Book Mark No. 2; then put No. 1 away with your League certificate and keep it carefully as a part of your League records, that some day you will be proud to own and to show.
League Report: The Library League was started March 29th, 1897. On December 31st, 1897 it numbered 14,074. How large is it going to be on its first birthday anniversary? What the League has done: It has brought many children to the Library who never used it before. It has taught many boys and girls to love books and to handle them carefully with clean hands. Many books have been reported which were in bad condition, and the juvenile books are now in better shape than before the League began its work.
Library League Reading Clubs: Some of the League members have been starting reading clubs. One of these clubs is a Travel Club, and another is a Biography Club. The Library assistants will be glad to tell League members about these clubs if they would like to form others.
Library League Motto: Clean hearts, clean hands, clean books.
The other side of this book mark contains a list of the juvenile periodicals in the library. No. 2 gives the beginning of a little serial, in which a thread of story will weave in hints on reading and on the care and use of books.
At our main library the children have come in such numbers after school and on Saturdays, that it has been impossible to push the work much this past winter, for fear the adults should suffer. It was finally decided that we must achieve the impossible, and by shifting about and putting up glass partitions, have a separate children's room instead of the open juvenile alcove. This room, while not half so large as it should be to meet the needs of the work, is indeed a great improvement in giving the children a place which they feel to be really their own; the change has involved the re-registration of the children having cards here, but it is affording much needed relief at the general receiving desks, and will greatly facilitate the service to adults, at the same time making it possible to do much more for the little people.
The library is endeavoring to co-operate more and more closely with the schools. More books have been issued to the teachers this winter than ever before. A new course of study having been published, all of the books referred to in it were looked up, and if not in the library or its branches, were purchased as largely as seemed desirable or possible. A list of "References for third-grade teachers," compiled by Miss May H. Prentice, training teacher in the Cleveland Normal School, has recently been published by the library. It was given to all of the third-grade teachers of the city, and sold to others. This is, we believe, the most comprehensive list ever prepared for a single grade of the common schools. We are hoping that it will prove so helpful to third-grade teachers that all of the other grades will demand similar ones for themselves, and that somehow the way will be found to meet the demand. The list of books noted by Miss Prentice for the children's own reading has been reprinted, without the annotations, in a little folder and 5,000 copies of it have just been distributed among the children of this grade.
Recently our school children were treated to the largest exhibition ever made in the United States to photographic reproductions of the masterpieces in art; to the work of the library in circulating pictures to teachers and children for school-room decoration and for illustration, is due no small share of this new interest in art.
While the children come to the library daily to look up subjects in connection with their school work, very little attention can be given to training them to use reference books as tools. Somewhere, either in the school or the library, this systematic teaching should be given. It is one of the things which is not being done.
And another thing is not being done--we are not reaching all of the children; in spite of our branches, our stations, our books in the schools, our Library League, there are many children who sadly need the influence of good books, who are not getting them--whole districts shut off from the use of the library by distance and inability to pay carfare. And we cannot give them branches or send books--for lack of funds.
It is a growing conviction in my own mind that the library, aside from its general mission, and aside from its co-operation with the schools in the work of education, has a special duty to perform for the city child. No one can observe city life closely without seeing something of the evil which comes to the children who are shut up within its walls; the larger the city the greater is the evil, the more effectually are the little ones deprived of the pure air, the sweet freedom of the fields and woods, to be given but too often in their stead the freedom of the streets and the city slums. The evil is greater during the long vacations, when the five-hour check of the school room is entirely removed, and many a teacher will testify to the demoralization which takes place among the children who are then let loose upon the streets. For these the library must to some extent take the place of Mother Nature, for under present condition it is through books alone that some of them can ever come to know her; books must furnish them with wholesome thoughts, with ideals of beauty and of truth, with a sense of the largeness of life that comes from communion with great souls as from communion with nature. If this be true, the school vacation ceases to be the resting time of the children's librarian; she must sow her winter wheat and tend it as in the past, but she must also gather in her crops and lay her ground fallow during the long summer days when school does not keep; she must find ways of attracting these children to spend a healthy portion of their time among the books, always guarding against too much as against too little reading. For this work the individual contact is needed, and there must be more children's librarians, more branch libraries. This necessity and the problem of meeting it require grave consideration by the librarian of to-day.
 For accounts of the Library League, see Library Journal October and November, 1897.