One of the first librarians to give to library work with children a full appreciation of its possibilities in extension work was Salome Cutler Fairchild. An address given by her on January 10, 1898, before the New York Library Association and the New York Library Club on the development of the home library work in Albany describes some modifications of Mr. Birtwell's plan, and is especially interesting because it indicates the relation of this method of extension work to the "new philanthropy."
Mary Salome Cutler was born in Dalton, Mass., in 1855, was educated at Mt. Holyoke Seminary, and received the degree of B.L.S. from the University of the State of New York in 1891. In 1897 she was married to the Rev. Edwin Milton Fairchild. From 1884 to 1889 she was cataloguer in the Columbia College Library and Instructor in the Columbia College Library School. She became Vice-Director of the New York State Library School in 1889 and remained there until 1905. Since that time she has been a lecturer on selection of books and American libraries. Mrs. Fairchild was chairman of the committee in charge of the library exhibit of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and was identified with the publication of the A. L. A. Catalog.
It is probable that some of the readers of the Journal are unfamiliar with the idea of the home library. In a few words, this is its motive and its plan: To help the children of the poor in developing and ennobling their lives by giving them books and a friend.
The home library idea was evolved, not by a librarian, but by Mr. Charles W. Birtwell, secretary of the Children's Aid Society in Boston, a very old non-sectarian society. It grew up in a most natural way. He fell into the habit of lending books to poor children of his acquaintance and of talking with them about the books after they had been read. This took time, and the result was organization. The children were formed into little groups, books were bought systematically, and his friends were interested to form regular visitors.
And so a home library involves a group of 10 poor children, a library of 20 carefully selected books placed in the home of one of the children and circulating among them all, a visitor, who should be a person of rare wisdom and sympathy, who meets the children once a week, talks over the books with them, and during the hour gives them all possible help in any way she chooses. Each group contains both boys and girls from eight to fifteen years of age.
There are several groups of children and several little libraries. Once in three or four months the libraries pass from one group to another. The personal element supplied by the visitor is quite as valuable as the influence of the books. It is hard to tell just what the visitor does. It is perhaps simplest to say that she is a friend to the children and that she studies how to help them. That means a great deal. The plan is elastic and each visitor chooses her own methods.
Doubtless many librarians listened to Mr. Charles Birtwell's paper on home libraries at the Lake Placid conference, September, 1894, and are thoroughly familiar with the central thought and its application in the parent libraries in Boston. To such I would like to call attention to some modifications of the plan in the Albany libraries, to a few new points which we have worked out and old ones which we have emphasized.
It goes without saying that each book is read carefully by at least one member of the selection committee with special reference to the home libraries. It is not enough that a competent judge has read it without having that in mind. We are constantly tempted to give these readers books a little too old for them. They enjoy books which children who have always been familiar with books would be ready for three or four years earlier.
Visitors should be prepared for disappointment in the quality of the reading that is done. At the beginning of my work with the children I was delighted with their enthusiasm over the books. To be sure their choice was often determined by the attractiveness of the cover or big type, or the bigness or littleness of the book. I soon found that it was a rare thing for a child to read a book through. They would often say with pride "I read 30 or 60 pages" and were unwilling to take the book again, though claiming to like it. It is a slow process, but now after over two years they read with much more enjoyment and thoroughness. It was a long step ahead when the brightest child in the group began to read the continued stories in the St. Nicholas and to watch eagerly for the next number.
I wonder if these children are not in a way a type of the readers in our larger libraries. We fondly hope that there will be an immediate and hearty acceptance of the good things which we have spread out with such lavish expenditure of our own life, later we learn that even among the educated classes the genuine reading habit is the heritage of the few and among the many must be the result of a slow and steady growth.
I think we have improved on the Boston plan in dealing with the magazines. They take nine different periodicals and break the year up so that with one library of 15 books the children have parts of five periodicals. We put 18 books in each library and subscribe regularly for each group of children for St. Nicholas and Youth's Companion. In some of the groups the children have not cared for Youth's Companion. It has been given a fair trial since July, 1894, and we have just substituted Harper's Round Table as an experiment. Other groups, however, are devoted to the Youth's Companion. St. Nicholas is a prime favorite with all.
We do not buy cheap editions. Grimm's "Fairy tales" is selected in the tasteful Macmillan edition with illustrations by Walter Crane. Hawthorne's "Wonderbook" is given to them in the exquisite illustrated edition of Houghton, Mifflin & Co. We consider the illustrations and the dainty covers a part of the educative value of the book. We do not cover the books permanently, but give them covers which slip on and off easily that they may use them at their pleasure. A good deal of pride is developed in each group of children in having the little library clean when it passes on to the next group.
An effort is of course made to balance the libraries, putting in each a volume of history, one of light travel, and a book about animals like Mrs. Jackson's "Cat stories," "Buz," "Sparrow, the tramp." Stories of course predominate. Fairy-tales are by all odds the most popular and get the hardest wear. I have noticed that this is also true in the children's travelling libraries sent out by the New York state library. In one group of home library children Grimm's "Household tales" was such a favorite, and they called for it so persistently, that an extra copy was bought for their benefit and is almost constantly in use. They much prefer it to Andersen. The naming of the libraries and of the groups of children is a new feature. Of our nine libraries five are named for children. Any person, or number of persons, giving $25 (the cost of a new library with its bookcase) is entitled to name the library. The plan is a popular one and several gifts of that sort have been received. In one case a small framed picture of the child for whom the library is named goes with it and the children seem to have a positive affection for the picture.
The children choose for themselves some hero to give the name to their club, or group. We have the Washington, the Columbus, the Anthony Wayne, the Lincoln, and the Edison groups, and one more recently formed, not yet named. It is a significant fact that the children knew and admired Anthony Wayne because they read about him in Coffin's "Boys of '76."
One beauty of the home libraries is the simplicity of the central idea and the natural relations between the children and the visitor. It is quite possible to combine with this much direct educational work. Games are almost always used by the visitors.
The skilful visitor, who should have the spirit of the kindergarten and might well have also her training, may develop through the games attention, concentration, and courtesy, qualities in which these children are especially lacking. It is an interesting study to watch the development of the game of 20 questions; e.g. from a wandering, haphazard medley asked in a slow and painful way by self-conscious children, to quick, intelligent, carefully planned questions
To illustrate more specifically an attempt at educational work, the Columbus group may be taken as an example.
There is a badge consisting of a bronze medal with the head of Columbus, fastened with a knot of red, white, and blue ribbon. The rule of the group is the rule of the majority; e.g., when games are to be played a vote is taken and all are expected to enter heartily into the one chosen by the majority. By constant application of this plan and the discussion which it involves, those children have come to understand pretty well the nature of a vote. There is a child's life of Columbus and a scrap-book containing pictures of him. The Columbus group are appropriately discoverers, and as they have set out to find out everything possible about their own city, once a month the group goes out together for a long walk. They have visited the capitol, geological hall, city hall, the Schulyer mansion, etc. Every week 10 minutes are spent in studying the city, the name and location of the streets, the city buildings, the government of the city, its history and antiquities, the cleanliness of the city, etc. Many problems of city government which are taking the attention of the best minds to-day can be studied in simple form here. And this is real study. It is simple and elementary, but not haphazard, and what they get is definite and organized. It is not merely amusement, though they are interested and take hold heartily. A simple statement of each lesson is duplicated and put into the hands of the children. These will be combined into a handbook useful for all children in the city and suggestive for other cities. I hope that some line of study may be taken up by the other groups, each visitor choosing that which she can best develop. Light science would be attractive to some and of real service to the children.
Music, always a powerful agent in the development of life, is specially useful in this city because the music taught in the public schools is purely technical. All the children have met on Saturday afternoons in the kindergarten room of one of the public schools to sing under the direction of a competent director of music who loves children and takes genuine pleasure in the work. This gives them a little repertoire of choice children's songs to take the place of the street songs which was about all they knew before, helps to soften their voices in speaking, and also serves as an excuse for bringing together the children of the various groups about once a month and making a little esprit de corps, which is desirable. It is wonderful when they are inclined to be boisterous and unmanageable in their games what a humanizing influence a sudden call for one of these songs will produce.
It is proposed to circulate games suitable for playing at home, also small framed pictures after the plan of the Milwaukee Public Library. The books are often read by the parents and older brothers and sisters. The games and pictures would help in like manner to sweeten and ennoble the home life.
But why should you be interested in the home library and in allied movements? Is it simply because they are an extension of the book power to which you have pinned your faith? There is, I think, a deeper reason. The movement known as the new philanthropy is one of the strong factors in our civilization to- day. The life of the community is the study of the man who serves the public as librarian. Nothing which is an essential part of that life is foreign to him. As distinguished from the old- fashioned charity which relieved individual suffering without regard to its effects on society, the new movement is characterized by two tendencies:
1. A scientific study of the principles of philanthropy: information before reformation.
2. A spirit of friendliness: not alms, but a friend.
Men and women of singular ability, of the best training and devoted to noble ideals, have given their lives to studying the problems of the poor, and so we have colleges and social settlements, free kindergartens, home libraries and a score of other new activities, one in spirit and in aim. But there are not enough trained specialists.
The philanthropic work of our cities is largely done by young ladies of the leisure class, quite a proportion of them graduates of colleges, and with a splendid mental, moral, and social equipment for the work. But they are raw recruits for lack of discipline. Caught in the wave of enthusiasm they plunge zealously into work with very little understanding of underlying principles.
I have given a good deal of thought to this difficulty and am persuaded that there is a way out. I want to present it here because, if it appeals to you as wise, you will be able to help in putting the plan to the test of experience. As the difficulty is ignorance, the remedy is study.
A class in philanthropy should be organized, for serious study in the scientific spirit and by the scientific method, under the direction of as competent a teacher as can be secured. Only those who are determined to do serious work and who have ability to cope with these problems should be admitted. Every attempt to popularize the course should be discouraged. The class might be carried on under the auspices of a church, a charity organization society, or even of a library. The initiative should be taken by some one person with the requisite discrimination, tact, and organizing skill. According to my outline a two- years' course is needed, involving an hour of class work once a week, with, if possible, five hours a week of study, and for nine or ten months in the year. Laboratory work, that is, investigation of local conditions, should be carried on throughout the course. Lectures combined with seminar work seem to me the best methods of instruction. The literature of the subject is rich and helpful.
At the end of the first course there would be two or three new persons competent to instruct, and these might organize other classes.
If this class in philanthropy could be carried on in any city for 10 or 15 years, the charities of the city would feel the effect of the work. Instead of crudity there would be strength, enthusiasm would be supplemented by wisdom. The result would be the strengthening of the personal character of the poor and the enrichment of the whole city life. For we rise or sink together. The higher groups of society cannot develop without a corresponding development in the lower groups.
And so I call you to study the problems of philanthropy, to follow intelligently the history of home libraries, to approve this plan of training if it be wise, if not to work out a better one. Neither is this to go outside your natural course on the ground of sentiment. You are to study the community on broad lines that you may give back to the community through many channels that abundant life which is the highest service.