LIBRARY READING CLUBS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
The successful development of reading clubs by the New York Public Library is evidenced by the fact that at the time the following paper was written, in 1912, there were reported twenty-five boys' clubs and seventeen girls' clubs. The paper is by Anna C. Tyler, and was read before the New York meeting of school librarians in Brooklyn, N. Y., May 25, 1912.
Anna Cogswell Tyler was born in Detroit, Michigan, and was graduated from the Hartford, Conn., High School in 1880. She attended Mrs. Julie Goddard Piatt's boarding school in Utica, New York, from 1880 to 1882, and Mademoiselle Taveney's school for girls at Neuillysur- Seine near Paris from 1883 to 1885. She was graduated from the Pratt Institute Library School, taking the two-year course, 1904-1906. She was an assistant in the Pratt Institute Free Library from 1906 to 1908. In 1908 she was made assistant in charge of story-telling and library reading-clubs in the New York Public Library.
The library reading clubs have sprung into being as a natural result of the library story hour, and for two very potent reasons --the boys and girls of from twelve to fifteen years old, however much they enjoy listening to a good story, are extremely afraid of being classed as children. Therefore when such a boy or girl comes to the branch library which he uses and sees a very attractive little notice reading "Story hour this afternoon at four o'clock for the older children" he shakes his head and goes his way saying, "Oh, they don't mean me, that's for the kids!" But when he sees a notice reading "The Harlem Boys' Club" meets such a day and hour his attention is immediately arrested, and he asks, "What do you have to do to join this club?"
This is the first reason for the rapid growth of these library reading clubs, the magic contained in merely the sight or sound of the word "club"--the spur it gives to the imagination of even the apparently unimaginative child, and the stigma it removes from the mind of the adolescent boy or girl of being considered a child. By conferring upon him the dignity of membership in a club we can make it possible for him to enjoy to the extent of his capacity the pleasure the majority of children so delight in--the listening to a good story well told or well read. His mind is at peace, his dignity unquestioned, for, since no stripling likes to be taunted with his green years, his being a member of such a club or league has forever precluded such a possibility.
The matter of joining these clubs is made as simple as possible, and the great democracy of the public library spirit is kept uppermost in the minds of librarians who have charge of this work, and by them instilled into the minds of the children as rapidly as possible. Any boy or girl is welcome to the club who wishes to come, provided he or she is of the right age or grade to enjoy the stories, reading, or study that is interesting the others. Boys and girls who are doubtful are invited to come and see what the club is as often as they will, until they have quite made up their minds whether or not it is something they want. The only thing required of them is to follow the one general rule underlying all the clubs of the library--the Golden Rule, that their behavior shall in no way interfere with the pleasure or rights of the other members. Some of them stay only a short time, but on the other hand we have many children who were charter members when the clubs were formed four years ago, and they have attended the meetings regularly, though they have long since passed from the grammar schools and have reached the heights of the third year in high school.
The difficulty of finding stories which will interest in the same degree mixed groups of older children is the second reason for the growth and popularity of the library reading clubs. Some of the great stories of the world, like "The Niebelungenlied," "The Arthurian cycle," Beowulf, and a few others may be used, or the life of a great man or woman may be told, and listened to with interest, provided there is plenty of romance in the life, and the book which contains the story is attractive in appearance and tempts one to read it at first glance. One can also find good material for club programs in the romance of some period in the history of a country not our own. The difficulty of choosing story literature suitable and interesting for mixed groups of boys and girls and the difference in their reading tastes make the segregation of the library reading clubs a wise method. The boy during these years is eager to acquire information on all subjects--one can appeal to his love of adventure, of heroes, and mystery. The girl is full of romance--poetry and drama make their appeal.
The difficulty of maintaining and controlling successful library reading clubs is frequently lost sight of because of the ease with which they can be formed. Our experience has taught us that in planning the library activities of the New York Public Library the reading clubs must come last--they must only be established when they can take their place as one of the regular functions of the library. The librarian who is to be club leader must be able to interest, influence and control the club members as well as to tell a story.
The club season lasts from the first of October to the end of May, and at present we have twenty-five boys' clubs and seventeen girls' clubs reported. Some of these are formal in organization with regularly appointed officers chosen, of course, by the boys and girls themselves. These officers hold their office for periods of varying length, some clubs electing new officers each month, others at the beginning of each club season. Some of the clubs are clubs only in name--entirely informal, but meeting regularly once or twice or oftener each month throughout the season to listen to the stories. Many of the clubs are entirely selfgoverning and they also arrange their own programs. The librarian who is the club leader is present as a member, but takes no active part in the entertainment of the club unless invited to do so.
And now just for a moment let us consider the kind of literature we are trying to interest the youngsters in. Being a radical it pleased me very much recently to come across the following passage in an interesting new book by Miss Rosalie V. Halsey, entitled "Forgotten books of the American nursery." Miss Halsey says: "Reading aloud was both a pastime and an education to families in those early days of the Republic. Although Mrs. Quincy made every effort to procure Miss Edgeworth's stories for her family, because, in her opinion, they were better for reading aloud than were the works of Hannah More, Mrs. Trimmer and Mrs. Chapone, she chose extracts from Shakespeare, Milton, Addison, and Goldsmith. Indeed, if it were possible to ask our great-grandparents what books they remembered reading in their childhood, I think we should find that beyond somewhat hazy recollections of Miss Edgeworth's books and Berquin's 'The looking glass for the mind' they would either mention 'Robinson Crusoe,' Newberry's 'Tales of Giles Gingerbread,' 'Little King Pippin,' and 'Goody Two-shoes' (written fifty years before their own childhood), or remember only the classic tales and sketches read to them by their parents."
Now it seems to me that our great-grandparents were very lucky to have been so delightfully introduced to the great things in literature, and in these days when the art of reading aloud is almost a lost art how can we expect the modern child to turn with a natural appreciation to the best in literature when he is almost submerged by the mediocre and vulgar inside and outside the home, his appreciation undeveloped, not old enough in years or intelligence to comprehend the beauty we so delight in. We are disappointed when he does not respond, and wonder why. Is it not the result of forcing him to use these things before he is ready, and thus only fostering his distaste?
Believing this to be so, I have gone to work to try to induce the boys and girls to read more widely, and cultivate appreciation, by using this old-fashioned method of reading aloud or telling a part of the story and reading here and there bits of the text, thus letting the author tell his own story, and as far as we have been able we have tried to give the children the KIND of story they wanted--WHEN they wanted it--but in the best form in which it could be found. For instance Poe's "The purloined letter" when a detective story is asked for, followed by a story from Stevenson's "New Arabian nights" or "Island nights' entertainments."
In eleven of the boys' clubs we have been using this year special collections of duplicate books, on topics suggested by the boys themselves. These collections have been kept together for from four to six weeks, and the stories that have been told or read from these books are mentioned in the notice, with a list of all the books in the collection and posted near where the books are shelved. The topics suggested by the boys are as follows: railroad stories; ghost stories; humorous stories; adventure on land; heroes; adventure on sea; history stories, this last topic including Italy, France, England, Scotland, Germany, Canada, and "The winning of the West" in American history, and each group decided on which country they would read about.
On the lower West side, where the Irish-Americans live in large numbers, where street fights and fires contribute a constant source of excitement, there is a library club of girls who have been meeting twice a month for two years. Last year we studied Joan of Arc, completing our study by reading Percy Mackaye's play. This year, not feeling satisfied that I was on the right path, I called a meeting to make sure. After trying in vain to get an expression of opinion I finally asked the direct question, "What kind of books do you really LIKE to read?" and for a moment I waited in suspense, fearing someone would answer to please me by mentioning some classic. But to my great relief one girl replied at last timidly, but decidedly, that she liked "Huckleberry Finn." This gave another the courage to add that she had enjoyed the chapter on whitewashing the fence in "Tom Sawyer." My clue had been found--a reading club of adventure was formed, and though we began with the "Prisoner of Zenda" we have wandered with "Odysseus," and sighed over the sacrifice of "Alcestis," and thrilled over the winning of "Atalanta" this winter.
A girls' club on the lower East side have been reading the old English comedies--"She stoops to conquer," "The rivals," "Lady Teazle"; then there is a flourishing Shakespeare club, which to honor the Dickens centenary this year, voted to make the study of the great writer a part of this year's program. This club meets once a week, and at one meeting the outline of one of the great tales was told by the librarian. This was followed by the girls reading one or more of the most famous chapters or dialogues. At the alternate meetings the girls read plays, varying the program by choosing first a Shakespeare drama and then a modern play. Each act is cast separately, so that all the girls may have a chance to take part, and in this way we read "Twelfth night," "Romeo and Juliet," "The taming of the Shrew," "Macbeth," "The bluebird," "The scarcecrow," and "Cyrano de Bergerac."
Away up in the Bronx there is a "Cranford Club," so named by the girls because of their interest in the story to which they were introduced four years ago. This club is really a study club and contains a good proportion of its original members. They meet twice a month, and a leader is appointed for each meeting, who chooses her committee to report on the topic for the evening's study. The topic is sub-divided and each girl does her part in looking up the bit assigned to her. In this way they have studied the English poets Tennyson and Milton, although after spending an evening on Comus the club voted unanimously to change to Dickens. They have also studied Bryant, Longfellow, Lowell and Whittier, and the girls were sufficiently familiar with these poems to recite many from each poet. Then the lives of three English queens were studied--"Bloody Mary," "Queen Elizabeth," and "Mary, Queen of Scots"; this year the Norse myths and stories from the Wagner operas. The librarian's part is to suggest the best books in which to find what they want, to get any book they may need, sometimes suggest a line of subjects to choose from, etc, but the work of preparing the material is done entirely by the girls. When a book is being read and discussed, they sit around a table and read in turn the bits that have been selected for them by the librarian, who tells them the thread of the story between selected bits read by the girls. Thus they have read "Cranford," "Pride and prejudice," "Old curiosity shop," "David Copperfield," and "Twelfth night." The teacher of English where most of these girls attend school was recently an interested visitor at the club, and she says she has noticed for a long time a difference in the school work done by these girls, from a broader viewpoint and outside atmosphere they brought to the class by their intelligent comments and criticisms, showing that they were reading outside and beyond the other girls of the class. She noticed also a difference in their composition work. One of the girls from that class was sent by this teacher to visit the library for the first time and when asked what she liked to read replied, "Wooed and married" and "How he won her" were nice books. The book given her instead of her favorites was Mary Johnston's "To have and to hold." It was read and enjoyed. Then she took Howells' "The lady of the Aroostook," and after the outline of the story had been told her seemed to read it with real pleasure. Next Owen Wister's "Virginian" was given her, but this she did not seem to care for. As a result of this reading her taste in a better kind of reading seems to have been pretty well established, as her librarian assures me that she has continued her reading along the line indicated by the above titles. The Belmont Club, the best boys' club for debating in the school, have challenged the "Cranford Club" to meet them in a debate on "Woman suffrage," to be held in the library at an early date. The girls have accepted the challenge, and the fact that the boys question their ability to equal them is sufficient spur to make them work every moment they can spare from their school duties to prepare for this important event. Added to this is the fact that every one of them is an ardent "suffragette."
The need of social centers in the schools and libraries is becoming insistent. The increasing demand on the part of children for clubs of all kinds shows plainly their desire for some place other than the street, where they can be amused and occupied in the natural desire for self-development and expression. Early last fall in one of the libraries the librarian met by appointment a group of girls from eleven to fourteen years old. These girls were wayward and troublesome, had formed a "gang" which was more difficult to control than the usual gang of boys. There was a room in her library quite apart from the rest of the building where they could meet as a club if it should prove desirable. "What would you like to do?" she asked. "Dance!" was the reply. "Well, then, dance, and show me what dances you like," replied the librarian, and immediately the girls formed for a figure of a folk-dance, and each girl humming softly the tune they danced it through. "The Girl Scouts" Club was formed, and in a day or two the secretary of the club submitted the following program for the librarian's approval: Program. 1. Chapter from the life of Louisa M. Alcott; 2. Recitations; 3. Games, Flinch; 4 One folk dance. From this beginning six other clubs have been established: two for the older girls, two for the boys, one for the little girls from eight to eleven years old, and one for a group of troublesome young men from sixteen to twenty years old. So keen has been the interest of these young people in these clubs that the "gang" spirit has long since disappeared, and at the end of the club season an open meeting was held, a program arranged in which members from each club took part, and the ushers and guards of honor were some of those same troublesome young men. There was no place in this community where the young people could meet for any kind of simple amusement, the only "social centers" being the cheap vaudeville theater, the usual moving picture show and the streets, until the little branch of the public library opened its doors, and so popular has the library become that 960 children have taken cards at the library since the first of September and are borrowing books on these. Besides the large number of card holders there is a still larger number of children who do all their reading and studying at the library. Although they may not know the old English verse from which the lines are taken they feel them:
"Where I maie read all at my ease,
The outline I have given will give you some idea of how we are developing the story hour and reading clubs in the New York Public Library. This work is made possible by the splendid cooperation on the part of the branch librarians and their assistants, without whom it would be impossible to carry on a work of such proportions.