LIBRARY CLUBS FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
The usefulness of the reading club as an opportunity of broadening the interests of the child is emphasized in the following paper, printed in the Library Journal, May, 1911, which gives an account of the organization of clubs under the direction of a supervisor in the Cleveland Public Library. Marie Hammond Milliken was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., was graduated from Wellesley College in 1905 and from the Training School for Children's Librarians in 1907; was children's librarian in the Cleveland Public Library from 1907 to 1910; Supervisor of reading clubs from 1910 to 1912, and since that time has been a branch librarian.
The 13-year-old president of one of the Cleveland library clubs said recently, in explaining the purpose of the club to a new member, "The idea of this club is to give you what you couldn't get anywhere else." This is a rather ambitious program. I should be slow to say that any club I have known has succeeded in doing that for its members. Considering the character of the communities in which the public library is generally placed, particularly the branches of a large library system, I am inclined to think, however, that clubs organized and conducted by the library offer to the children some things they are, at least, not likely to get anywhere else--and to the library another means of strengthening its effectiveness as an educational and social center in the community.
In speaking of library clubs, I have in mind the organized, self-governing club, with a small and definite membership, as distinguished from the reading circle. Definite organization means a constitution, officers, elections, parliamentary procedure --all the form and ceremonial so attractive to children of the club age. From the first meeting, when the constitution of the club comes up for discussion, the organization begins to develop the child's sense of responsibility. A simple form of parliamentary procedure will not only prove conducive to orderly and business like meetings, but, especially with young or immature children, delight in its formalities will help to hold the club together while interest in other phases of the club work is being developed.
The chief advantage of the self-government of the club is as a first lesson (frequently) in the principles of popular government. In the club the too-assertive child learns wholesome respect for the will of the majority, while his more retiring brother discovers that one man's vote is as good as another's. When one has seen a club of ambitious lads who, when they first organized, cared only for success, reject a boy who is a good debater and athlete on the ground that in another club he had shown that "he was a sorehead and couldn't seem to understand that the majority's got to rule," one is tempted to feel that organization can do so much for the children that an organized library club justifies itself on that score alone.
Club work is a very effective means of extending the active educational work of the library. In the clubs conducted by the Cleveland Public Library, the plan has been to encourage the children themselves to make suggestions for the club work. Then a tentative program is made out, based on some general interest shown in the suggestions made by the club. As far as possible, the program is planned with the idea of stimulating broad, as well as careful and intelligent reading. The program is, of course, subject to changes which may suggest themselves to the club or to its leader. Travel in foreign lands, the study of the lives of great women, nature study, the reading and discussion of Shakespeare's plays, in the girls' clubs, and, in the clubs for boys, debating and reporting on current events, have been the subjects most successfully worked out for club consideration, probably on account of the variety of interest which they present. Travel means not only the manners and customs side of the country--it means the art, the literature, the history, the legend; biography, not simply the life of the individual studied, but the period and country that produced it. The subjects discussed in the debating clubs are almost always of the boys' choosing, and represent a broad field of interest, economic, social, moral and political. They range from "Resolved, That Washington did more than Lincoln for his country," "That civilization owes more to the railroad than the steamboat," "That the fireman is braver than the policeman," in the clubs of boys from the sixth and seventh grades, to the discussion of municipal ownership, tariff commission, establishment of a central bank, and commission government for cities, in clubs composed of high school boys. Aside from what practice in the form of debating means to the boys in developing ability to think clearly and to speak to the point, discussion of vital questions of national and municipal interest encourages the boy to turn to more trustworthy sources of information than the daily press. He learns to refer to books and the better sort of periodicals for his authority, and, gradually, through reading and discussion, begins to substitute convictions for inherited prejudice or indifference.
The club's greatest usefulness lies in the opportunity it presents of broadening the interests of the child, of opening to him, through books and discussion, new fields of thought and pleasure. Compared with this, information acquired and number of books read are comparatively unimportant. The smallness of the group with which he has to deal and the children's invariable response to his special interest in them create an unusual opportunity for the club leader. In the informal discussions in the club he may pass on to the children something of his own interests, and direct theirs into channels which would probably never be opened to them otherwise. From our experience in one of the branches of the Cleveland Public Library, where club work has presented great difficulties, I know that, given a leader who understands, girls whose standard of excellence has been met by boarding- school stories, can be interested in studying and reading in their club the plays of Shakespeare or in listening to extracts from Vasari's "Lives of the painters" or Ruskin's "Stories of Venice." Beyond his opportunity to interest the club in better reading, the leader may help the children in a general way, by unconsciously presenting to them his standards of thought and conduct. Through him they may become aware of finer ideals of courtesy, bravery and honesty.
Not the least important contribution of club work to the library is the direction of the reading of boys and girls of the intermediate age--always such a difficult problem. Most of the children of the age when clubs begin to appeal to them strongly --from 12 years on--have reached a stage of mental development at which they should be reading, under direction, books from the adult as well as the juvenile collection. In the Cleveland Public Library clubs books from the adult collection are used whenever possible in connection with the club programs, and the leaders are encouraged to recommend books from that collection for the personal reading of the children. The result is that the children are gradually made acquainted with the adult department, and come to feel as much at home there as in the children's room.
The club very seldom fails to establish a feeling of friendliness and personal interest in the library among its members. It has proved itself, in this way, a very decided aid in reducing the librarian's "police duty." Moreover, the club is a privilege, and as such not to be enjoyed by those who habitually break the law, so that what it fails to accomplish in one way may be brought about in another.
As this paper is based on experience gained in the Cleveland Public Library, it would not be complete without mention of one important phase of the club work there.
To a very great extent the club work in the Cleveland Public Library owes its growth in size and efficiency to the time and interest given to it by the volunteer club leaders, of whom, during the year 1910, there were 60. Looking over the work of the boys' clubs for the year, it is interesting to note the influence of the leader's interests upon the boys. All but one of the boys' clubs whose leaders are attorneys devoted their club meetings to debating, mock trials and parliamentary drill. Among the clubs under the leadership of students in Western Reserve University (and these represent more than half of the total number of boys' clubs) the predominant interest is in the discussion of current events, the subjects for occasional debates being suggested by these discussions. In two or three clubs too young for such discussion, the leaders, who were especially interested in civics, were able to interest the boys in the study of the work of the various departments of our city government. In another instance a leader, a business man, deeply interested in the history of Cleveland and its industries has succeeded in holding the interest of his club boys in this subject for three months, though these were boys whose indifference to anything but "Wild West" stories was proverbial in the branch library.
Clubs for boys and girls in the Cleveland Public Library are under the direction of a club supervisor, who organizes the clubs, secures the services of the volunteer leaders, and helps them in preparing programs for the clubs. The work has been conducted in this way for three years, and has become a vital part of the work of the library as a whole.