Questia Online Library


THE QUESTION OF DISCIPLINE
Library Journal, 1901, P. 735.
LUTIE EUGENIA STEARNS.

The first article quoted on the subject of discipline was contributed to The Library Journal, October, 1901, by Miss Lutie E. Stearns, who gives the experience of a number of librarians and interprets them from her own standpoint. Lutie Eugenia Stearns was born in Stoughton, Mass.; was graduated from the Milwaukee State Normal School in 1887, and taught in the public schools for two years. From 1890 to 1897 she was in charge of the circulating department of the Milwaukee Public Library; from 1897 to 1914 she was connected with the Wisconsin Library Commission, part of the time as chief of the Travelling Library Department. Miss Stearns now devotes her time to public lecturing.

In these days of children's shelves, corners, or departments, or when, in lieu of such separation, the juvenile population fairly overruns the library itself, the question of discipline ofttimes becomes a serious one. The pages of library journals, annual reports, bulletins, primers, and compendiums may be searched in vain for guidance. How to inculcate a spirit of quiet and orderliness among the young folks in general; how to suppress giggling girls; what to do with the unruly boy or "gang" of boys --how best to win or conquer them, or whether to expel them altogether; how to deal with specific cases of malicious mischief or flagrant misbehavior and rowdiness--all these questions sometimes come to be of serious importance to the trained and untrained librarian.

It was with a view of gaining the experience of librarians in this matter that letters were recently sent to a large number of librarians, asking for devices used in preserving order and quiet in the library. The replies are of great interest, the most surprising and painful result of the symposium being the almost universal testimony that the leading device used in preserving order is the policeman! One librarian even speaks of his library as being "well policed" in ALL of its departments. Personally, we think the presence of such an officer is to be greatly deplored, believing him to be as much out of place in a library as he would be in enforcing order in a church or school room. The term of a school teacher would be short lived, indeed, who would be compelled to resort to such measures. In several instances, janitors do police duty, being invested with the star of authority; and in one case the librarian, who openly confesses to a lack of sentiment in the matter, calls upon the janitor to thrash the offender! "The unlucky youth who gets caught has enough of a story to tell to impress transgressors for a long time to come," writes the librarian. "The average boy believes in a thrashing, and it is much better in the end for him and for others to administer it and secure reverence for the order of the library."

In one state at least, Massachusetts, there is a special law imposing a penalty for disturbance; and one librarian reports that he has twice had boys arrested and tried for disturbing readers. Another librarian does not go as far as this but adopts the device of showing unruly boys a photograph of the State Reform School and the cadets on parade. "The mischief is quite subdued before I am half through," she writes, "and they frequently return bringing other boys to see the photograph. This fact undoubtedly acts as a check upon the boys many times." A pleasing contrast is offered to such drastic and unwholesome methods as these by the gentle and cheery methods pursued by a librarian who says, "The children in this library talk less than the grown-ups. When they do raise their voices, I go up to them and tell them in a very low tone that if everybody else in the room were making as much noise as they, it would be a very noisy place. That stops them. If children walk too heavily or make a noise on the stairs, I affect surprise and remark in a casual way that I did not know that it was circus day until I heard the elephants. This produces mouse-like stillness at once. Really, I know no other devices except being very impressive and putting quietness on the ground of other peoples' rights."

But it is not always such smooth sailing. One librarian writes: "We have had no end of trouble in a small branch which we have opened in a settlement in a part of our city almost entirely occupied by foreign born residents. A great many boys have come there for the sole purpose of making a row. We have had every sort of mischief, organized and unorganized. We have had to put boys out and we have had many free fights, much to the amusement and pleasure of the boys. We have never resorted to arrests, but instructed the young man who acted as body guard to the young lady assistants to hold his own as best he could in these melees. I finally resorted to the plan of taking the young man away and letting the young ladies be without their guard. This has resulted most satisfactorily. The order has been much better, and while I cannot say that we are free from disorder, nothing like the state of things that before existed now obtains. The manager of the Settlement House overheard a gang of these very bad boys consulting on the street a few nights ago, something in this wise: 'Come, boys, let's go to the library for some fun!' Another boy said, 'Who's there?' The reply was, 'Oh! only Miss Y----; don't let's bother her,' and the raid was not made. Of course we have done everything ordinary and extraordinary that we know about in the way of trying to interest the boys and having a large number of assistants to be among them and watch them, but nothing has succeeded so well as to put the girls alone in the place and let things take their course."

The experience of another librarian also furnishes much food for thought. She writes: "I could almost say I am glad that others have trouble with that imp of darkness, the small boy. Much as I love him, there are times when extermination seems the only solution of the difficulty. However, our children's room is a paradise to what it was a year ago, and so I hope. The only thing is to know each boy as well as possible, something of his home and school, if he will tell you about them. The assistants make a point of getting acquainted when only a few children are in. This winter I wrote to the parents of several of the leaders, telling them I could not allow the children in the library unless the parents would agree to assist me with the discipline. This meant that about six boys have not come back to us. I was sorry, but after giving the lads a year's trial I decided there was no use in making others suffer for their misdeeds. A severe punishment is to forbid the boys a 'story hour.' They love this and will not miss an evening unless compelled to remain away. To give some of the worst boys a share in the responsibility of caring for the room often creates a feeling of ownership which is wholesome. Our devices are as numerous and unique as the boys themselves. Some of them would seem absurd to an outsider. The unexpected always happens; firmness, sympathy and ingenuity are the virtues required and occasionally the added dignity of a policeman, who makes himself quite conspicuous, once in a while."

Another reply is a follows: "Miss C---- has turned over your inquiry concerning unruly boys to me to answer. I protested that every boy that made a disturbance was to me a special problem--and very difficult; and I can't tell what we do with unruly boys as a class. I remember I had a theory that children were very susceptible to courtesy and gentleness, and I meant to control the department by teaching the youngsters SELF control and a proper respect for the rights of the others who wanted to study in peace and quiet. I never went back on my theory; but occasionally, of a Saturday afternoon, when there were a hundred children or more and several teachers in the room and I was trying to answer six questions a minute, I did have to call in our impressive janitor. He sat near the gate and looked over the crowd and when he scowled the obstreperous twelve-year- olds made themselves less conspicuous. A policeman sometimes wandered in, but I disliked to have to resort to the use of muscular energy. I learned the names of the most troublesome boys and gradually collected quite a bit of information about them, their addresses, where they went to school, their favorite authors, who they seemed 'chummy' with, etc., and when they found I didn't intend to be needlessly disagreeable and wasn't always watching for mischief, but credited them with honor and friendly feelings, I think some of them underwent a change of heart. I made a point of bowing to them on the street, talking to them and especially getting them to talk about their books; had them help me hang the bulletins and pictures, straighten up the books etc. Twice an evil spirit entered into about a dozen of the boys and my patience being kin to the prehistoric kind that 'cometh quickly to an end,' after a certain point, I gave their names to the librarian, who wrote to their parents. That settled things for a while and they got out of the habit of talking so much. A serious conversation with one boy ended with the request that he stay from the library altogether for a month and when he came back he would begin a new slate. Once, within a week, he came in, or started to, when I caught his eye. Then he beckoned to another boy and I think a transaction of some kind took place so that he got his book exchanged. But he saw I meant what I said. The day after the month was up he appeared, we exchanged a friendly smile and I had no more trouble with him."

We deem the question of banishment a serious one. Unruly boys are often just the ones that need the influence of the library most in counteracting the ofttimes baneful influence of a sordid home life. It is a good thing, morally, to get hold of such boys at an early age and to win their interest in and attendance at the library rather than at places of low resort. To withhold a boy's card may also be considered a doubtful punishment-- driving the young omnivorous reader to the patronage of the "underground travelling library" with its secret stations and patrons. Before suspension or expulsion is resorted to, the librarian should clearly distinguish between thoughtless exuberance of spirits and downright maliciousness. "If we only had a boys' room," plaintively writes one sympathetic librarian, "where we could get them together without disturbing their elders and could thus let them bubble over with their 'animal spirits' without infringing on other people, I believe we could win them for good."

A number of librarians, however, report no difficulty in dealing with the young folks. Some state that the children easily fall into the general spirit of the place and are quiet and studious. "We just expect them to be gentlemen," says one, "and they rarely fail to rise to the demand." In such places will generally be found floors that conduce to stillness, rubber-tipped chairs, and low-voiced assistants. "Our tiled floors are noisy--not our children," confesses one librarian. The use of noiseless matting along aisles most travelled will be found helpful. But one library mentions the use of warning signs as being of assistance, this being a placard from the Roycroft Shop reading, "Be gentle and keep the voice low." In a library once visited were found no less than eighteen signs of admonition against dogs, hats, smoking, whispering, handling of books, etc., etc.--the natural result being that, in their multiplicity, no one paid any attention to any of them. If a sign is deemed absolutely necessary, it should be removed after general attention his been called to it. The best managed libraries nowadays are those wherein warnings are conspicuous for their absence. Next to the officious human "dragon" that guards its portals, there is probably no one feature in all the great libraries of a western metropolis that causes so much caustic comment and rebellious criticism as that of an immense placard in its main reading room bearing in gigantic letters the command, SILENCE--this perpetual affront being found in a great reference library frequented only by scholarly patrons. Such a placard is as much out of place there as it would be in a school for deafmutes.

The solution of the whole problem of discipline generally resolves itself into the exercise of great tact, firmness, and, again, gentleness. There should be an indefinable something in the management of the library which will draw people in and an atmosphere most persuasive in keeping them there and making them long to return. A hard, imperious, domineering, or condescending spirit on the part of librarian and assistants often incites to rebellion or mutiny on the part of patrons. As opposed to this, there should ever be the spirit of quietude, as exemplified in the words previously quoted--"Be gentle and keep the voice low."

Library Work with Children

Next Section:
MAINTAINING ORDER IN THE CHILDREN'S ROOM