Questia Online Library

A. L. A. Proceedings, 1911, p. 240.

A conception of the meaning and the possibilities of children's work interpreted by means of present day social and industrial conditions is given by Henry E. Legler, librarian of the Chicago Public Library, in a paper on "Library work with children," read at the Pasadena Conference of the A L. A. in 1911. Henry Eduard Legler was born in Palermo, Italy, June 22, 1861. He was educated in Switzerland and the United States. In 1889 he was a member of the Wisconsin Assembly; from 1890 to 1894 secretary of the Milwaukee School Board; from 1904 to 1909 secretary of the Wisconsin Library Commission, and since 1909 has been librarian of the Chicago Public Library. In 1912-1913 Mr. Legler was President of the A. L. A.

Not long since a man of genius took a lump of formless clay, and beneath the cunning of his hand there grew a great symbol of life. He called it Earthbound. An old man is bowed beneath the sorrow of the world. Under the weight of burdens that seemingly they cannot escape, a younger man and his faithful mate stagger with bent forms. Between them is a little child. Instead of a body supple and straight and instinct with freedom and vigor, the child's body yields to the weight of heredity and environment, whose crushing influence press the shoulders down.

In this striking group the artist pictures for us the world-old story of conditions which meet the young lives of one generation, and are transmitted to the next. It is a picture that was true a thousand years ago; it is a picture that is faithful of conditions today. Perhaps its modern guise might be more aptly and perhaps no less strikingly shown, as it recently appeared in the form of a cartoon illustrating Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's verse:

The Cry of the Children

Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
Ere the sorrow comes with years?
They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,
And THAT cannot stop their tears.
The young lambs are bleating in the meadows,
The young birds are chirping in the nest,
The young fawns are playing with the shadows,
The young flowers are blowing towards the west--
But the young, young children, O my brothers,
They are weeping bitterly!
They are weeping in the playtime of the others,
In the country of the free.

Do you question the young children in the sorrow,
Why their tears are falling so?
The old man may weep for his to-morrow
Which is lost in long ago;
The old tree is leafless in the forest,
The old year is ending in the frost,
The old wound, if stricken, is the sorest,
The old hope is hardest to be lost;
But the young, young children, O my brothers,
Do you ask them why they stand
Weeping sore before the bosoms of their mothers,
In our happy Fatherland?

Go out, children, from the mine and from the city,
Sing out, children, as the little thrushes do.
Pluck your handfuls of the meadow cowslips pretty,
Laugh aloud to feel your fingers let them through!

Only in recent years has there grown into fulness a conception of what the duty of society is towards the child. For near two thousand years it was a world of grown-ups for grown-ups. Children there have been--many millions of them--but they were merely incidental to the scheme of things. Society regarded them not as an asset, except perhaps for purposes of selfish exploitation. If literature reflects contemporary life with fidelity, we may well marvel that for so many hundreds of years the boys and girls of their generation were so little regarded that they are rarely mentioned in song or story. When they are, we are afforded glimpses of a curious attitude of aloofness or of harshness. Nowhere do we meet the artlessness of childhood. In a footnote here, in a marginal gloss there, such references as appear point to torture and cruelty, to distress and tears. In the early legends of the Christians, in the pagan ballads of the olden time, what there is of child life but illustrates the brutal selfishness of the elders.

Certainly, no people understood as well as did the Jews that the child is the prophecy of the future, and that a nation is kept alive not by memory but by hope. Childhood to them was "the sign of fulfillment of glorious promises; the burden of psalm and prophecy was of a golden age to come, not of one that was in the dim past." So in the greatest of all books we come frequently upon phrases displaying this attitude:

"There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof."

"They shall remember me in far countries; and they shall live with their children."

And most significant of all: "Suffer the little children to come unto me."

In the centuries intervening, up to a hundred years ago, the men of pen and the men of brush give us a few touches now and then suggestive of childhood. However, they are observers rather than interpreters of childhood and its meaning. In the works of the great master painters, the dominant note is that of maternity, or the motive is devotional purely. Milton's great ode on the Nativity bears no message other than this. In the graphic tale that Chaucer tells about Hugh of Lincoln, race hatred is the underlying sentiment, and the innocence of the unfortunate widow's son appears merely to heighten the evil of his captors and not as typical of boyhood.

Of the goodly company known collectively as the Elizabethan writers, silence as to the element of childhood is profound. In all the comedies and the tragedies of the greatest dramatist of all, children play but minor parts. In none of them save in King John, where historic necessity precludes the absence of the princes in the Tower, they might be wholly omitted without impairment of the structure. In the Merry Wives of Windsor, Mistress Anne Page's son is briefly introduced, and is there made the vehicle for conversation which in this age might be regarded as gross suggestiveness.

True, that is a rarely tender passage in the Winter's Tale wherein Hermione speaks with her beloved boy, and the pathos of Arthur's plea as he asks Hubert to spare his eyes is of course a masterpiece of literature; these, however, the sum total of the great dramatist's significant references to childhood.

In the great works on canvas, save where the Christ-child is depicted, may be noted that same absence of the spirit of childhood. Wealthy and royal patrons, indeed, encouraged great artists to add favorite sons and daughters to the array of portraits in their family galleries. In time, the artists gave to the progeny of the nobility and the aristocracy generally, such creations as to them seemed appropriate to their years. These poses are but the caricature of childhood. Morland, Gainsborough, Sir Joshua Reynolds and other artists of their day represented the children of their wealthy patrons in attitudes which savor somewhat of burlesque, though it may have been intended quite seriously to hedge them about with spontaneity.

It has been said that "a child's life finds its chief expression in play, and that in play its social instincts are developed." If this be true, we find in some contemporary canvases of this English school a curious reproduction of the favorite pastimes of children. One is called "bird-nesting," the title descriptive of the favorite diversion thus depicted. Another bears the legend "Snow-balling," and with no apparent disapproval save on the part of the little victims, shows a group of larger children ruthlessly snow-balling some smaller ones who have sought shelter in the portico of a church. Some distance down the street the form of an aged woman suggests another victim of youthful playfulness.

A century and a half ago there was born, frail at first but with constant growth, a perception that the great moving forces of life contain elements hitherto disregarded. Rousseau sounded his thesis, Pestalozzi began to teach, and but a little later on, Froebel expounded his tenets. We need not be concerned as to the controversial disputation of rival schools of pedagogues whose claims for one ignore the merits of the other. A new thought came into being, and both Pestalozzi and Froebel contributed to its diffusion--whether in the form of Pestalozzi's ideal, "I must do good to the child," or Froebel's, "I must do good through the child," or perhaps a measurable merging of the two.

Responsive to the note of life and thought around them, the great authors of prose and verse began to inject the new expression of feeling into what they wrote. Perhaps best reflected, as indeed it proved most potent in molding public opinion, this thought entered into the novels of Charles Dickens. These, in the development of child life as a social force, not only recorded history; they made history, and the virile pencils of Leech and Phiz and Cruikshank aided what became a movement.

For the first time in literature, with sympathetic insight, there was laid bare the misery of childhood among the lowly and unfortunate, and the pathos of unhappy childhood was pictured with all its tragic consequences to society as a whole. In the story of Poor Joe, the street-crossing sweeper, who was always told to move on, we read the stories of thousands of the boys of to-day. His brief tenantry of Tom-all-Alones shows us the prototype of many thousands of living places in the slums of our own time. Conditions which environ growing boys and girls --not only thousands of men, but many millions--in the congested cities of the Anglo-Saxon world, are well suggested by the names which have been given in derision, or brutally descriptive as the case may be, to such centers of human hiving as the Houses of Blazes and Chicken-foot Alley, in Providence; Hell's Kitchen in New York; the Bad Lands in Milwaukee; Tin Can Alley, Bubbly Creek and Whiskey Row back of the stockyards in Chicago. In these regions and in others like them darkness and filth hold forth together where the macaroni are drying; broken pipes discharge sewage in the basement living quarters where the bananas are ripening; darkness and filth dwell together in the tenement cellars where the garment-worker sews the buttons on for the sweat-shop taskmaster; goats live amiably with human kids in the cob-webbed basements where little hands are twisting stems for flowers; in the unlovely stable lofts where dwell a dozen persons in a place never intended for one; in windowless attics of tall tenements where frail lives grow frailer day by day.

Lisabetta, Marianna, Fiametta, Teresina,
They are winding stems of roses, one by one, one by one--
Little children who have never learned to play;
Teresina softly crying that her fingers ache today,
Tiny Fiametta nodding when the twilight slips in, gray.

High above the clattering street, ambulance and fire-gong beat;
They sit, curling crimson petals, one by one, one by one.
Lisabetta, Marianna, Fiametta, Teresina,
They have never seen a rosebush nor a dewdrop in the sun.
They will dream of the vendetta, Teresina, Fiametta,

Of a Black Hand and a Face behind a grating;
They will dream of cotton petals, endless, crimson, suffocating,
Never of a wild rose thicket, nor the singing of a cricket;
But the ambulance will bellow through the wanness of their dreams,
And their tired lids will flutter with the street's hysteric screams

Lisabetta, Marianna, Fiametta, Teresina,
They are winding stems of roses, one by one, one by one;
Let them have a long, long playtime, Lord of Toil, when toil is done;
Fill their baby hands with roses, joyous roses of the sun.

Reverting to Poor Tom, well may the words of Dickens in Bleak House serve as a text for to-day: "There is not an atom of Tom's shrine, not a cubic inch of any pestilential gas in which he lives, nor an obscurity or degradation about him, nor an ignorance, nor a wickedness, nor a brutality of his committing, but shall work its retribution, through every order of society up to the proudest of the proud and the highest of the high."

Whatever of permanence the ideal democracy which underlies our institutions may achieve, it will not be the survival of conditions such as these, but the fruition of their betterment. Recognition of the sinister elements involved determines the modern type of library work with children. That work rests upon a knowledge of the background which has been pictured, upon the use of methods that shall reach sanely and effectively the contributing causes, upon correlation of all the social forces that can be brought to bear unitedly.

Recognition of conditions and causation gives power to, and justifies the modern trend of, library work with children as the most important and far-reaching of all its great work. Of thirty million men and women, and their children, who have come from Over-seas in two generations, 83 per cent were dwellers along the rim of the Mediterranean. Largely from that source have our towns grown overnight into swarming cities. Their children of to-day will be the men and women who in a generation will make or unmake the Republic. Ignorance and greed, rather than necessity, breed the chief menace in our national life. Alone as a detached social force, the library cannot hope to combat these, but in correlation with other forces may serve as one of the most potent agencies. In the children's rooms and in kindred places, the missionaries of the book take the disregarded bits of life about them and weave them into a human element of power. The children's rooms in the library and what they imply in the life of the people, are of such recent origin and growth that the complete force of their present-day work will not be fully apparent for a quarter century. What they hope to do, the instruments they purpose to use, are given succinctly in the pronouncement of one of our most progressive libraries


    To make good books available to all children of a community.

    To train boys and girls to use with discrimination the adult library.

    To reinforce and supplement the class work of the city schools (public, private, parochial and "Sunday" schools).

    To cooperate with institutions for civic and social betterment, such as playgrounds, settlements, missions, boys' and girls' clubs; and with commercial institutions employing boys and girls, such as factories, postoffice special delivery division, telegraph and telephone agencies and department stores.

    And first and last to build character and develop literary taste through the medium of books and the influence of the children's librarian.

Pursuing these purposes, endeavoring to meet these tests. library work with children will make for better citizenship. It will take account not only of the children of the poor, but of the children of the well-to-do, who may need that influence even more. In the cities, which now overshadow our national life, there are no longer homes; there are flats, where the boys and girls are tolerated--perhaps.

"Our problem is not the bad boy, but rather the modern city," says Prof. Allen Hoben. "The normal boy has come honestly by his love of adventure, his motor propensities and his gang instincts. It is when you take this healthy biological product and set him down in the midst of city restrictions that serious trouble ensues. For the city has been built for economic convenience, and with little thought for human welfare. Industrial aim is evidenced to every sense. You smell industrialism in the far- reaching odors of the stockyards. You hear it in the roar of the elevated hard by the windows of the poor. You see it in a water front that people cannot use, and you touch it in the fleck of soot that is usually on your nose. The proof of industrial aggression ceases to be humorous, however, when it shows itself in the small living quarters of many a city flat where boys are supposed to find the equivalent of the old-time house. Constituted as he is, the boy cannot but be a nuisance in the flat community. And because the flat dweller moves frequently, he will be without those real neighbors of long standing whose leniency formerly robbed the law of its victims. Furthermore, he has no particular quarters of his own where he may satisfy his sense of proprietorship and save up the numerous things he collects with a view to using them in construction. The flat dwellers will not permit the noise or litter incident to such building as a boy likes; and he has little if any part in the labor of conducting the house. He loses dignity as a helpful and necessary member of the family, he loses that loyalty which attaches to the old familiar places of boyhood experience and strengthens many a man to-day, making him more kind and consistent in his living by virtue of homestead memories."

So the boy is driven to the street as his domain. It is his playground. And here he encounters the policeman. Of 717 children arrested in one month in New York City, more than half were arrested for playing games. Parenthetically, the fact may be quoted that in this children's chief playground in a period of ten months 67 children were killed and 196 injured.

Unerringly, these facts point to a union of social forces--the children's library and the children's playground, a realization of that clear comprehension which the ancient Greeks had of the unity between the body and the mind. Quoting Plato: "If children are trained to submit to laws in their plays' the love of law enters their souls with the music accompanying their games, never leaves them, and helps them in their development."

Having in thought physical recreation as a stimulus to mental development, in combination bringing home the joyousness of life, an ideal union of forces is being effected in some of the larger cities. In some places, the movement has assumed but an initial stage--a bit of tent shelter for distribution of books to children gathered at the sand pile. In some instances co- operation has joined the work of park breathing centers and library organizations. This has reached completed form in the placement of branch libraries as part of the park equipment, either quarters within a general building, or a separate little building adjacent to or on the athletic field.

But whether in place of high or low degree; whether in rented store or memorial building of monumental type; whether in the rooms of a school building or a corner in a factory; whether by this method or by that, the children's librarian employs the printed page to serve as instrument to these ends:

    The building of character, making for the best in citizenship.

    The enlargement of narrow lives, bringing the joy and savour and beauty of life to the individual.

    The opening of opportunity to all alike, which is the essence of democracy.

And in, the doing, an incidental and a great contribution is made to society as a whole. For, as the story hour unfolds a new world to the listener whose life has been bounded by a litter- covered alley and three bare walls, or whose look into the outside world has been perhaps a roof of tar and gravel and a yawning chasm beyond, so the development of the imagination through the right sort of books shall make possible the fullest development of the individual boy and girl. In many a life there has been a supreme moment when some circumstance, some stimulus has changed that life for good or ill. For want of that stimulus, the dormant power of many a man has gone to waste. Half the derelicts of humanity who are but outcasts of the night had in them the making of good men--perhaps some of them of great men, in science or in art. There is no waste that is greater than lost opportunity; there is no loss so great as undiscovered resource. Speaking of imagination in work, Mr. Hamilton Wright Mabie points out that:

"So long as the uses of the imagination in creative work are so little comprehended by the great majority of men, it can hardly be expected that its practical uses will be understood. There is a general if somewhat vague recognition of the force and beauty of its achievements as illustrated in the work of Dante, Raphael, Rembrandt and Wagner; but very few people perceive the play of this supreme architectural and structural faculty in the great works of engineering, or in the sublime guesses at truth which science sometimes makes when she comes to the end of the solid road of fact along which she has traveled. The scientist the engineer, the constructive man in every department of work uses the imagination quite as much as the artist; for the imagination is not a decorator and embellisher, as so many appear to think; it is a creator and constructor. Wherever work is done on great lines or life is lived in field of constant fertility, the imagination is always the central and shaping power."

I would have liked in this over-lengthy, but yet fragmentary survey of the field from the viewpoint of the library, to say something of the mistakes which have perhaps been made, and which may still be made unguardedly by reason of over-zeal whereby the relationship of the work to other things may be ignored or misunderstood; of the danger that over-strong consciousness as to possession of high ideals may dictate too urgent use of books that may have literary style, but do not reach the heart of the boy--driving him to the comic supplement and to the dregs of print for his reading hours. These, and other comments must be left for another occasion.

I would also have liked to say something of the history of work with children in libraries, but Miss Josephine Rathbone has told the story fully and well. In that history, when it shall be written a quarter century hence, it will be fitting to give full meed of honor to Samuel Sweet Greene, Edwin H. Anderson, Mrs. H. L. Elmendorf, Miss Frances J. Olcott, Miss Linda A. Eastman and some of the other splendid women of the profession whose presence here precludes the mention of their names.

So, too, I would have liked to give the result, statistically, of an inquiry, which the helpful kindness of Miss Faith E. Smith, chairman of this section, has enabled me to make. It must suffice here to limit the statement to a brief summary that shows less what has been accomplished than what remains to be attempted:

There are in the United States to-day approximately 1,500 public libraries containing each more than 5,000 volumes. The number reporting children's work is 525, with a total of 676 rooms having an aggregate seating capacity of 21,821, and an available combined supply of 1,771,161 volumes on open shelves. The number of libraries in which story hours are held is 152, and 304 report work with schools. Of course, this work is pitifully meager as to many libraries. The number of children who come more or less under the direct influence of children's librarians is generously estimated as 1,035,195 (103 libraries, including all the large systems reporting). There are in the United States of children from 6 to 16 years of age, approximately thirty-three millions.

Behind the work of the children's librarians there is a fine spirit of optimism--not blind to difficulties, but courageous, ardent and hopeful.

Disregarding ridicule, which is but a cheap substitute for wit; regardful of criticism, which is often provocative or promotive of improvement, inspired with the dignity of their high calling, and with a fine vision that projects itself into the future, the librarians engaged in the work with children willingly give thereto the finest and the best of personality that they possess. Descriptive of their spirit, we may aptly paraphrase the words of a great humanitarian of our own generation:

"Some there are, the builders of humanity's temples, who are laboring to give a vast heritage to the children of all the world. They build patiently, for they have faith in their work.

"And this is their faith--that the power of the world springs from the common labor and strife and conquest of the countless age of human life and struggle; that not for a few was that labor and that struggle, but for all. And the common labor of the race for the common good and the common joy will bring that fulness of life which sordid greed and blighting ignorance would make impossible."

And you have the faith of the builders.

Library Work with Children

Next Section: