ELEMENTARY LIBRARY INSTRUCTION
Principles and methods and the part of the public library in giving library instruction are presented by Gilbert O. Ward, Supervisor of High School Libraries, Cleveland, Ohio, in Public Libraries, July, 1912. This and its allied subjects are more comprehensively treated in several of the articles included in the first volume of the present series, entitled "Library and School."
Gilbert O. Ward was born in 1880 in New York City, and was educated in the New York City public schools. He was graduated from Columbia University in 1902 and from the Pratt Institute Library School in 1908. In 1908- 1909 he was an assistant in the Pratt Institute Free Library. Since 1909 he has been a member of the staff of the Cleveland Public Library, as librarian of the Technical High School in 1909-1910, and as technical librarian since 1910. From 1911 to 1913 he served as Supervisor of High School Branches. Mr. Ward has published "Practical use of books and libraries: an elementary textbook for use with high school classes."
The term "elementary library instruction" is limited here to any instruction given in the technical use of books and libraries to students under college or normal school grade.
The object of this paper is to review briefly, (1) the reasons for giving such instruction, (2) subjects and some methods suitable for grade and high schools, (3) the part of the public library in giving such instruction.
The subject of bibliographical instruction for school children has become more important in recent years because of changes which have taken place in school methods. Schools now place much less reliance than formerly upon text-books, while on the other hand they require of the student more collateral reading and reference work. This is especially true in courses in English and history; for instance where the high school student formerly studied about Chaucer in a textbook, he is now more likely required to read a selection.
This method while more fruitful in results than the old text-book method presents new difficulties both to teacher and to student. On the teacher's part, it is no longer sufficient to assign 10 pages for study and have done with it. References must be consulted and assigned to the students for written or oral report. With the troubles of the teacher however, we shall have nothing to do in the present paper. On the student's part, instead of being able to sit down to a compact account in a single book, he is required to use perhaps a dozen books in the course of a month, to say nothing of possible magazine articles. In fine, instead of a single book, he must use a library. The practical effect of this condition is that without some understanding of the scientific use of books and of the possibilities of either high school or public library, the student wastes his time and finds these studies an increased burden. The ordinary student is ignorant of how to handle books.
The primary purpose of formal library instruction is clearly then to do away with the friction which hinders the student in his or her work. There is no charm in bibliographical information as such and no excuse for attempting to teach a child merely curious or interesting facts for which he has no natural appetite or use. An example of this mistake is the attempt to acquaint the student with very many reference books, or go deeply into the subject of classification.
The subject of library instruction in public schools conveniently divides itself into two parts, (1) instruction in grade schools, (2) instruction in high schools. I have elsewhere rather full tentative outlines by way of suggestion, and limit myself at this point to more general discussion.
In elementary classes, the subject matter must be simple, first because the needs of the student are simple, and secondly because it is more easily and willingly taught if simple. The subjects which suggest themselves are: (1) The physical care of a book, (2) printed parts of a book, (3) the dictionary, (4) the public library.
The physical care of a book comes naturally first because children have to handle books before they can read them for pleasure, or need to use them as reference helps. The subject is important both to librarian and to school boards because it affects the question of book replacement, and hence the expenditure of public money. Speaking broadly, it is a question of conservation.
The ordinary book, not the reference book, is the one with which the student will always have most to deal; therefore as soon as he is old enough, or as soon as his text books can serve for practical illustration, the important printed parts of the ordinary books can be called to his attention. It should be sufficient to include the title page (title, author's name, and date), table of contents and index.
The study of the dictionary (the first reference book) should be taken up first with the pocket dictionaries when these are used in class and the children should be practiced in discovering and understanding the kinds of information given with each word. Then, when the unabridged is attacked later, the essentials will be familiar, and the mind freer to attack the somewhat complex problems of arrangement and added information, e.g., synonyms, quotations, etc.
After proper care of books, and the use of an ordinary book, and the use of a simple reference book, the next natural step is to the use of the public library. The talk on the public library obviously includes some description of the library's purpose and resources both for use and amusement, a very general description of the arrangement of the books, possibly some description of the card catalog--personally I am somewhat skeptical as to the utility of the card catalog for grade pupils--and finally, possibly an explanation of the encyclopedia.
The instructor for all the subjects mentioned excepting the public library is logically the teacher, because the subjects must be introduced as occasion arises in class. For instance the time for teaching the physical care of a book is when a book is first put into the child's hands. For the talk on the public library, the library itself is obviously the place, and the children's librarian the instructor Some special methods which suggest themselves are as follows: for the physical care of a book, a class drill in opening, holding, shutting, laying down, etc., rewards for the cleanest books, etc.; for the card catalogue, sample sets of catalogue cards (author, title and subject). The latter method is successfully used by the Binghamton (N. Y.) public library.
In high school, students vary in age from the grammar school boy on the one side, to the college freshman on the other, and the subjects and methods of instruction vary accordingly. In the matter of bibliographical instruction this greater range is reflected in a closer study of reference tools, including those parts of an ordinary book not taken up in the grades, (e.g., copyright date, preface, peculiar indexes, etc.), the unabridged dictionary, selected reference books, card catalog, magazine indexes, etc. The intelligent care of books can be re-emphasized by an explanation of book structure from dissected examples.
The specific subjects to be taught will vary with the time available, the class of the student, the subjects taught in school and the method of teaching them, and the material on hand in the public or school library.
As to general methods of instruction, these also must vary to suit the subject, the age of the student and the time available. Straight lecturing economizes time but makes the class restless and inattentive. An oral quiz drawing on the student's own experience is useful in getting the recitation started and revives interest when interspersed through a lecture. Each point should be illustrated by concrete examples from books themselves when possible, or from the blackboard. The lesson should be concluded by a written exercise, not too difficult, which should be marked. For example, the dictionary might be illustrated from the sample sheets issued by the publishers; and the class should then be given a list of questions to be answered from the dictionary. The questions can frequently be framed so as to be answered by a page number instead of a long answer, and each student should as far as practicable have a set of questions to answer different from every other student's.
If the high school possesses a library, much of the instruction is most logically given there. This save the time of the class in travelling back and forth from the school to the public library, particularly if the course is an extended one.
But why does the instruction of school children in the use of books and libraries concern the public library?
Because if children learn to use ordinary books intelligently it means a saving of the librarian's time by her not having to find the precise page of every reference for a child. It means a diminished amount of handling of books. It means less disturbance from children who do not know how to find what they want. Other results will doubtless suggest themselves.
It is not proposed to train the student to be a perfectly independent investigator. That would be impracticable and undesirable. It is simply proposed to give him such bibliographical knowledge as will be distinctly useful to him as a student now, and later as a citizen and patron of the library.
But what part may the public library play in this instruction? It obviously may play a very large part in high schools, the librarian of which it supplies, as in the city of Cleveland. In high schools when the librarian is appointed by the school authorities, it can cooperate with the school librarian by lending speakers to describe the public library, by furnishing sets of specimen catalogue cards for comparison--for public library cataloging may differ from high school cataloging--by lending old numbers of the Readers' Guide for practice in bibliography making, etc., etc.
Where there is no high school library and instruction must be given by the teacher or the public librarian, again the opportunities of the public library are clear. First there are teachers to be interested. English and history teachers most obviously, and department heads of these subjects are strategic points for attack. The subject of course should never be forced and a beginning should be made only with those teachers who seem likely to take interest. In the Binghamton public library before referred to, the librarian contrived to get the teachers together socially at the library, and the plan was then discussed before being put into operation. In laying the foundation for such a campaign, the librarian should have a simple, but definite plan in mind, based on her experience with school children so that when asked for suggestion, she can advance a practicable proposition.
Finally, under any circumstances, the public library can always be open for visits from classes, and ready to give class instruction in either library or school room as necessity or opportunity suggests. These methods are of course well known. Much informal instruction can also be given to students on using the index of an ordinary book, or the encyclopedia as occasion arises.
Summing up the chief points of this superficial review, we have seen (1) that the change in teaching methods has made the subject of library instruction important. (2) That the subjects of such instruction should be simple, and that both subjects and methods must be adapted to the occasion, (3) and finally that the public library is interested in the subject from a practical point of view and is able to take an influential part in shaping and administering courses.