THE CHILDREN'S LIBRARY IN NEW YORK
The leading editorial in The Library Journal for May, 1887, says: "The plan of providing good reading for very little children begins at the beginning, and the work of the Children's Library Association, outlined in a paper in this number, may prove to be the start of a movement of great social importance." This interesting personal account was written by Miss Emily S. Hanaway, principal of the primary department of Grammar School No. 28, in New York City, to whom came the thought, "Why not give the children reading-rooms?", and through whose efforts the Association was organized.
Emily S. Hanaway was married in 1891 to the Reverend Peter Stryker. She died in 1915 in her eightieth year. Her library was ultimately forced to close its doors, but its influence remains.
For several years it had caused me much pain to find that many of the children in our school were either without suitable reading or were reading books of a most injurious kind. The more I pondered the matter the more I became convinced that much of the poison infused into the mind of a child begins at a very early age. As soon as a child takes interest in pictures the taste begins to be formed. Give him only common comic or sensational ones, and he will seize them and look no higher. On the other hand, give him finely-wrought sketches and paintings, tell him to be very careful how he handles them, and he will despise the trash of the present day. Place in his hand clear print, and he will never want the vile copy of a sensational paper often thrown in at our doors. Place in his hand Babyland, tell him that he is an annual subscriber, and the importance of having his name printed on the copy will induce him to do as a little relative of mine has frequently done. He will run after the postman and ask him how long before the next number will arrive.
Upon one occasion we endeavored to find out what sort of books our school-children were reading, and asked them to bring a few for us to examine. Some of them, having been directed in their reading by discreet, faithful parents, brought such periodicals as St. Nicholas, Chatterbox, Harper's Young People, etc., while others brought the vilest kind of literature, and one little fellow brought a large copy of the "Annual Report of the Croton Aqueduct."
In the summer of 1885, while seated in a room where the National Association of Teachers had assembled, a thought, as if some one had leaned over my shoulder and suggested it, came suddenly into my mind: "Why not give the children reading- rooms?" There was no getting rid of the thought. All that afternoon and evening it followed me. After the meeting, in the evening, I asked Prof. E. E. White, of Ohio, if he thought such an undertaking could be carried out. He answered, "Yes; but it is gigantic." I came home fully persuaded that it must be tried; but where should I begin? As soon as school opened in September, it occurred to me that almost opposite our school- building there was a day-nursery, the lady in charge of which appeared to be a very earnest worker. She said she would be very glad to help, as she had a small library at that time, which her children used in the nursery.
On visiting the publishers, generous donations were promised from Treat, Scribner, Taintor & Merrill, Barnes, and others. These were sent to the nursery. A few years before, a former principal in our school, Miss Victoria Graham, had worked with great energy to have a library in P. D., G. S. 28, and the proceeds of an entertainment given in 1872 in the Academy of Music had furnished two or three hundred books. Miss Graham died the same year, and as we had no regular librarian, many of the books were lost. About sixty were left. These also were sent to the nursery, and our children went over every week to draw books. This was the first attempt. But we felt that it was but a small beginning, and that if we wished to bring in all creeds we must free the public mind from suspicion, and have a representation from every denomination, Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Hebrew. Accordingly, we planned that when a committee should be organized, every religious faith should be represented among those who were to choose the books. As we wished to have many of these rooms throughout the city, and as our friends at the day-nursery, under their arrangements, could not have a committee, we thought it would do no harm to start anew. So we conferred with the various clergymen of all denominations, in a neighborhood well known to us, and received great encouragement. Dr. Mendez became a member of our organization committee, and has been present at very many of our business meetings.
We then visited the persons named by these gentlemen, for our organization committee, and when we had found eleven willing to serve, a kind friend in West 22d St., Mrs. Hanford Smith, gave us the use of her parlors for our meeting. A more gloomy committee has been seldom seen. "Have you a room for a library?" was asked. "No." "Any money?" "No." "Any books?" "No." "Absurd! How do you expect to start such a work?" "On faith." Next a vote was taken whether to organize or not. It was decided to organize. Mr. Edward Chichester was elected president, Mr. Edward Vanderbiit secretary, and Mr. E. P. Pitcher to the very responsible position of treasurer, without a cent in the treasury.
Here it is only due to Rev. Dr. Terry to speak of the encouragement he gave. The Y. M. C. A. connected with the South Reformed Church, on 21st St. and 5th Ave., were talking of taking rooms at 243 9th Ave., for a young men's club, and through the doctor's efforts we were allowed to come into these rooms from 4 to 6 p. m., all through the season, from December to May, with the understanding that we might pay or not, according to our success in obtaining funds. One trouble was over. We then began our circuit once again through the city, after school hours, visiting every publishing-house named in the directory, beside making many personal visits to friends, who encouraged us by gifts of books.
We are largely indebted to Dodd, Mead & Co., Carter, Taintor, Merrill & Co., and many others, who have given most liberally; also to friends, who have given us many $5 bills, and enabled us not only to pay expenses, including librarian, tickets of admission, covers for books, circulars, etc., but also to hand over most joyfully to Dr. Terry $40 for the use of room at the close of the season.
Last fall we tried to begin our work once more, and after walking from 40th to 23d St., along 8th and 9th Avenues, I at last found rooms on W. 35th Street. Dr. Terry kindly loaned us furniture, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union shared with us the modest rent of $13 per month, $6.50 each.
Last year P. D. No. 45, in West 24th St., sent a large representation from their school. This year they asked for and received tickets. We had about 350 books, and issued about 700 admission tickets. At one time during the winter the librarian sent me this message: "Only eight books are left on the shelves. Do you think it best to close the room to-day?" I returned word: "Get in all the books you can; do not give out any for a short time, but let the children come in and look at the stereoscopic views, play games, look at or read pamphlets. When they have returned a sufficient number, begin to distribute again." That week we received several parcels of books, and started up again. We had applications for tickets from P. D., G. S. No. 11, 37th St. Prim. Deptt, 34th St. R. Ch. S. School, Ind. School, West 415t St., and others. Male Dep't, G. S. No. 67, asked for 91 tickets. Some of the children in P. D., G. S. No. 28, shed tears when their teacher informed them that we had no more tickets.
The children stood on the sidewalk on a Friday afternoon, not long ago, from 2:30 until 5:30, patiently waiting for their turn to enter the room, as the librarian could only allow a certain number to enter at one time.
Dr. Barnett visited the rooms with the intention of putting up chest-expanders for exercise, but he found them too small, and the woodwork too frail, for any such purposes.
We have a number of subscribers at $1 per year, although some have gone far beyond this in subscriptions. We closed on May 1, to reopen in the fall.
One great reason for keeping open through the year is that many parents are obliged to work all day, and the children run the risk of getting into all sorts of crime. As an instance, not long since I found a little girl in our department who had been frequently caught pilfering. At last we thought it necessary to send for the mother. She burst into tears and said: "What am I to do? My children are alone after school hours until I return, and I do not know what they are doing." I asked if the children had tickets for the reading-room, and here found another difficulty. "Not on the same day," she said. We had been obliged to send the girls on three days of the week, and the boys on two days, because of the lack of room, and of helpers. Several teachers have since come forward and offered their services. Two teachers in our department have gone every Monday, and two others every Friday, and appeared to take great pleasure in the work. All honor to such young, earnest workers, for they deserve it!
We have recently received a box of books, toys, etc., from the "Little Helpers" in Elyria, Ohio, and Columbia College is taking an active interest in our work. We are leaning upon our friends of the college library for support and help, in time to come. All our meetings are held at Columbia College.
We hope for liberal donations, and we feel quite sure--yes, as sure as we felt on that gloomy evening last winter, when we decided to go on--that from the kind words of encouragement, and the liberal gifts that we have received in the past, the gifts are coming in the future; and when we are resting from our labors, others yet unborn shall rise up and call those blessed who have strengthened our hands. And we believe that when this comes the prison doors will open less frequently.