LIBRARY DAY AT THE PLAYGROUNDS
The Monthly Bulletin of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for October, 1901, includes an account of summer playground work which was begun three years before. Playground libraries as an introduction to regular library agencies are described by Miss Meredyth Woodward.
Meredyth Woodward, now Mrs. J. Philip Anshutz, was born in Waterloo, N. Y., in 1869, and was educated in the schools of Tecumseh, Michigan. She took special work in the State Normal School at Oswego, N. Y., and later studied in the Law Froebel Kindergarten Training School at Toledo, Ohio, and in the Chicago Kindergarten College. After teaching in this institution she became Principal of the San Jose Normal School in California. After this she studied in the Leland Stanford University. She took charge of the Home Library Work in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in 1901, where she remained until 1904, part of the time acting as assistant in the Training School for Children's Librarians.
The work of supplying the summer playgrounds with books, begun as an experiment three years ago, was continued this summer as a part of the work done by the Children's department of the Library for the children of this city. During the initial summer, five playgrounds were supplied, the total circulation being about 1,600. Last year the needs of seven playgrounds were met, with a result of 1,833 in circulation, while the present year nine playgrounds have given a circulation of 3,637 volumes, and this during one day in each of six weeks. At a joint meeting of the Library workers with the Kindergartners who had charge of the playgrounds, it was decided to set apart this day as Library day, and as high as 117 volumes have been issued in a single playground on that day, while one week every available book was issued in spite of a drenching rain outside.
Through the courtesy of the school directors and principals, the library was enabled to place the books, take registrations, and fill out cards, several days before the day for circulation. Thus much valuable time was gained, and the work begun and carried out more systematically. Boxes of books carefully selected from the best juvenile literature, comprising attractive stories of history, biography, travel, nature, poetry and useful arts, as well as fiction, picture books and the ever popular fairy tales, were sent to each playground. Each kindergartner also received for her special use a list of stories bearing on the thought she wished to emphasize each week, with the books containing these stories. Charging stations were improvised out of desks, tables, or chairs, in some vacant room, or corner of a hallway. Walls dismantled for the summer cleaning were made more attractive by gay flags, or picture bulletins illustrating the books to be circulated.
One morning spent at a playground on Library day would be enough to convince the most sceptical that the children fully appreciated their opportunities. As one of the kindergartners remarked, "You'd think they had never seen a book before." They swarmed about the windows and doors of the circulating room, and at one school, when the impetuous but good-natured line became too eager, they were restrained by the commanding voice of the policeman to "Back up." Even the charms of an exciting game of base-ball had no power over a wonted devotee, when pitted against the attractions of an interesting book. Kindergartners from five playgrounds agreed that by far the largest attendance was on Library day, many of the older children coming on that day only. They felt "too old to play," but never too old to read.
The signature of one of the parents, with that of the child's, entitled him to draw books. One little tot begged hard to have a "ticket," and be allowed to take books home, insisting with many emphatic nods that she could write her name. On trial only a few meaningless scratches resulted, and the tears that filled her eyes at her failure were banished only when the librarian promised that she might come each week, and look at the picture books. Another child asked for a card for his little friend who had rheumatism, and couldn't come to the playground. A mother of the neighborhood took a card that she might draw out picture books, and books of rhymes and jingles for the little one at home. The "little mothers" invariably saved a place on their cards for a book to please the baby brother or sister tugging at their skirts, or, it might be, for some older member at home. Very often the whole family read the books. One boy waited till nearly noon on Library day for his father to finish the "Boys of '76." Another said he wished he might take three books, because there were four boys at home, and he would like to have enough "to pretty near go 'round." In another family three of the children were drawing books. Still the older sister had to come down to get a book for herself, saying the others never gave her a chance to read theirs.
In these miniature libraries not only do the children become familiar with library regulations, but more judicious and intelligent in the selection of books. At first they choose a book because it has an attractive cover, large print, "lots of talk" (conversation), or because it is small and soon read. "I tell you, them skinny books are the daisies," said one, while the opinion of another was, "These ain't so bad if they'd only put more pictures in to tell what they're about." Later they select a book because the title tells of interesting subject matter, or because a playmate has recommended it as "grand," "dandy," or "a peach." A popular book often has as high as ten or fifteen reserves on it, the Librarian being greeted in the morning with a chorus of, "Teacher please save me"--this or that book. So, from having no idea of choice, the children finally have such a definite idea of what they want, and why they want it, that, unless the particular book is forthcoming, they "guess they don't want any book to-day." One small girl took out "Little Women," and wanted "Little Men" on the same card. When she understood that only one book of fiction could be taken on one card, she inveigled her little sister into taking it on her card. Then she tucked the books under her arm, remarking, with a sigh of satisfaction, "Now, we'll have 'em both in our family." In striking contrast to the excitement attending the selection of books is the lull that follows. Here and there are interested groups looking at the pictures-- delightful foretaste of what is to follow in the text--or comparing the merits of the different books. Some have already made an absorbed beginning in the story which will be finished at home, on the door step, or by the evening lamp, when the more active games of the day are over. Nor are these absorbing books always fiction. The statistics show that stories of travel, lives of great men, and books on natural history were fully as popular as the fiction. The fiction per cent of last year was reduced from 60 per cent to 52 per cent this year.
And so the work for the season has closed, leaving many a young reader not only trained but enthusiastic to enjoy regular library privileges. The general verdict of the children was that they were "Sorry it was over." Four lads from the South Side begged that they might get books from the Main Library, and one boy presented his card the very day after the playground closed. Nearly all the branches have gained new adherents from their respective districts.
On the whole we feel well pleased with the season's work, although, as is natural, the work done by the two new Branches was not so successful as that elsewhere owing to the fact that the work was new to the district. When compared with that done in the districts where it has been carried on for three years, it gives a striking example of the growth and development which has taken place since the beginning. As a result of the work, at the West End Branch alone, fifty-two children from the Riverside playground have taken out library cards. The children are better trained in library usages, and more intelligent as to what they want, often counting from one year to the next upon getting a certain book. Out of this enthusiasm there naturally result the Home Library groups and clubs which furnish books during the winter. One notable outgrowth of last summer's playground was the Duquesne School Club, whereby the children of the Point were enabled to get books through the winter. This has since been superseded by the introduction of the School-Duplicates, and now the children hold elections for their various officers, while the wide-awake principal has gotten out a neat little catalogue of the books in their collection.
Unemployed and uninterested children are fallow ground for the seeds of mischief and crime. The half-day playgrounds do wonders toward solving the problem of the vacation child. Do not the interesting, wholesome, juvenile books made so accessible to the children also play a large part in this good work?