Questia Online Library


READING OF THE YOUNG
U.S. Bureau of Education Papers prepared for the World's Library Congress held at the Columbian Exposition; ed. by M. Dewey, 1896, p. 944.
CAROLINE MARIA HEWINS.

Miss Hewins made a later report on the same subject [see the previous article] in a paper presented before the World's Library Congress in 1893. In this paper, given below, she has summarized several of the early yearly reports made at the meetings of the A. L. A., all of which are of great interest as a record of the work of various libraries.

In the Government report on libraries, 1876, the relation of public libraries and the young was treated by Mr. W. I. Fletcher, who discussed age-restrictions, direction of reading, choice of books, and incidentally the relation of libraries to schools, referring to librarians and trustees as "the trainers of gymnasts who seek to provide that which will be of greatest service to their men." The report was suggestive, and called for several radical changes in the usual management of libraries. No statistics were given, for none had been called for, and the number of libraries which were working in the modern spirit was not large. Mr. Green, in his paper at the Philadelphia conference of 1876 (L. j. 1: 74), gave some suggestions as to how to teach school boys and girls the use of books, and in one or two of the discussions the influence of a librarian on young readers was noticed, but the American Library Association did not give much time to the subject till the Boston conference of 1879, when a whole session was devoted to schools, libraries, and fiction (L. j. 4:319), the general expression of opinion being similar to the formula expressed in the paper by Miss Mary A. Bean, "Lessen the quantity and improve the quality." In 1881, Mr. J. N. Larned, of the Buffalo Young Men's Library, issued his pamphlet, "Books for young readers." The report on "Boys' and girls' reading" which I had the honor of making at the Cincinnati conference of 1882 has answers from some 25 librarians to the question "What are you doing to encourage a love of good reading in boys and girls?" (L. j. 7:182.) Several speak of special catalogs or bulletins, most of personal interest in and friendship with young readers. One writes, "Give a popular boy a good book, and there is not much rest for that book. Librarians should like children." It was in 1883 that, by the suggestion and advice of our lamented friend, Frederick Leypoldt, I published a little classified pamphlet, "Books for the young." In January of the same year the Library Journal began a department of "Literature for the young," which was transferred at the end of the year to the Publishers' Weekly, where it still remains. The report on the subject, made for the Buffalo conference by Miss Bean, is on the same lines as the former one, with the addition of the experience of some smaller libraries. She says, "I believe the Lynn library has hit a fundamental truth, and applied the sovereign remedy, so far as the question concerns public libraries, in its 'one-book-a-week' rule for pupils of the schools."

Miss Hannah P. James's report at the Lake George conference in 1885 (L. j. 10:278) sums up the information received from 75 sources in some suggestions for work in connection with school and home, suggesting the publication of book lists in local papers, supervision of children's reading if authority is given by parents, and the limitation of school children's book to one or two a week. At the St. Louis conference of 1889 Miss Mary Sargent reported on "Reading for the young" (L. j. 14:226), One librarian fears that lists of books prepared for boys and girls will soon become lists to be avoided by them, on account of young people's jealous suspicion of undue influence. Sargent's "Reading for the young" was published just after the White Mountain conference of 1890, and the subject was not discussed in San Francisco in 1891 or at Lakewood in 1892 except in relation to schools.

The Ladies' Commission on Sunday school books is at least five years older than the American Library Association. It has done good service in printing lists of books specially adapted to Unitarian Sunday schools, others unfitted for them only by a few doctrinal pages or sentences, and a third class recommended as household friends on account of their interests, literary value, and good tone. The Church Library Association stands in the same relation to Episcopal Sunday schools, recommending in yearly pamphlets:

1. Books bearing directly on church life, history, and doctrine.

2. Books recommended, but not distinctly church books.

The Connecticut Ladies' Commission has, at the request of the Connecticut Congregational Club, published since 1881 several carefully chosen and annotated lists.

The National Young Folks' Reading Circle, the Chautauqua Young Folks' Reading Union, and the Columbian Reading Union, the latter a Catholic society, the others undenominational, have published good lists for young readers. The Catholic Church also recommends many recent stories for children which have no reference to doctrines or differences in belief.

One hundred and fifty-two out of 160 libraries have answered the following questions:

1. Are your children's books kept by themselves?

2. Are they classified, and how?

3. Have they a separate card catalog or printed finding list?

4. Are they covered?

5. Do you enforce rules with regard to clean hands?

6. Have you an age limit, and if so, what is it?

7. Do you allow more than one book a week on a child's card?

8. Are children's cards different in color from others?

9. What authors are most read by children who take books from your library?

10. What methods have you of directing their reading? Have you a special assistant for them, or are they encouraged to consult the librarian and all the assistants?

11. Have you a children's reading room?

Seventy-seven reply to the first question that their children's books are kept by themselves, 22 that stories or other books are separate from the rest of the library, and 53 that there is no juvenile division.

Three answer simply "Yes" to the second question, 24 have adopted the Dewey system, in two or three cases with the Cutter author marks, 4 the Cutter, and 1 the Linderfelt system; 10 arrange by authors, 18 by subjects, 4 by authors and subjects, 42 report methods of their own or classification like the rest of the library, and 46 do not classify children's books at all.

In answer to the third question, 6 libraries report both a separate card catalog and finding list, 43 a finding list for sale or distribution, 15 a card catalog for children, and 88 no separate list. Of the printed finding lists 4 are Sargent's, 1 Larned's, 2 Hardy's, and 2 Miss James's.

The fourth question relates to covering books for children. Eighty-five libraries do not cover them, 30 cover some, either those with light bindings or others that have become soiled and worn, 35 cover all, and 2 do not report.

In reply to the fifth question, 45 libraries require that children's hands shall be clean before they can take books from the library, or at least when they use books or periodicals in the building, and 50 have no such rules. Others try various methods of moral suasion, including in one instance a janitor who directs the unwashed to a lavatory, and in another a fine of a few cents for a second offense.

The sixth question, whether there is an age limit or not, brings various replies. Thirty-six libraries have none, five base it on ability to read or write, one fixes it at 6, one at 7, and one at 8. Ten libraries allow a child a card in his own name at 10, two at 11, forty-seven at 12, six at 13, thirty-three at 14, four at 15, and six at 16. They qualify their statements in many cases by adding that children may use the cards of older persons, or may have them if they bring a written guarantee from their parents or are in certain classes in the public schools.

Question 7 deals with the number of books a week allowed to children. Ninety-five libraries allow them to change a book every day; one (subscription) gives them a dozen a day if they wish. Fifteen limit them to two, and 3 to three a week, and 16 to only one. Several librarians in libraries where children are allowed a book a day express their disapproval of the custom, and one has entered into an engagement with her young readers to take 1 book in every 4 from some other class than fiction. Others do not answer definitely. A few libraries issuing two cards, or two-book cards, allow children the use of two books a week, if one is not a novel or story.

Question 8 is a less important one, whether children's cards are of a different color from others. There is no difference between the cards of adults and children in 124 libraries, except in case of school cards in 2. In 4 the color of cards for home use varies, and 4 report other distinctions, like punches or different charging slips. Eight do not charge on cards and 12 do not answer.

With regard to question 9, "What authors are most read by children who take books from your library?" the lists vary so much in length that it is impossible to give a fair idea of them in in few sentences. Some libraries mention only two or three authors, others ten times as many. Miss Alcott's name is in more lists than any other. Where only two or three authors are given, they are usually of the Alger, Castlemon, Finley, Optic grade. These four do not appear in the reports from 35 libraries, where Alden, Ballantyne, Mrs. Burnett, Susan Coolidge, Ellis, Henty, Kellogg, Lucy Lillie, Munroe, Otis, Stoddard, and various fairy tales fill their places. Seven are allowing Alger, Castlemon, Finley, and Optic to wear out without being replaced, and soon find that books of a higher type are just as interesting to young readers.

Question 10 asks what methods are used in directing children's reading, and if a special assistant is at their service, or if they are encouraged to consult the librarian and all the assistants. Many librarians overconscientiously say, "No methods," but at the same time acknowledge the personal supervision and friendly interest that were meant in the query. Only nine do not report something of this kind. Six have, or are about to have, a special assistant, or have already opened a bureau of information. Five say that they pay special attention to selecting the best books, 4 of the larger libraries have open shelves, and 2 are careful in the choice and supervision of assistants.

In answer to question 11, 5 report special reading rooms, present or prospective, for children; 3 more wish that they had them, while others believe that the use of a room in common with older readers teaches them to be courteous and considerate to others. Most reading rooms are open to children, who sometimes have a table of their own, but in a few cases those under are excluded.

My own opinion on the subjects treated in the questions are:

1. It is easier for a librarian or assistant to find a book for a child if whatever is adapted to his intelligence on a certain subject is kept by itself, and not with other books which may be dry, out of date, or written for a trained student of mature mind.

2. It is easier to help a child work up a subject if the books which he can use are divided into classes, not all alphabeted under authors.

3. A separate card catalog for children often relieves a crowd at the other cases. A printed dictionary catalog without notes does not help a child.

A public library can make no better investment than in printing a classified list for children, with short notes on stories illustrating history or life in different countries, and references to interesting books written for older readers. Such a list should be sold for 5 cents, much less than cost.

4. The money spent in paying for the paper and time used in covering books is just as well employed in binding, and the attractive covers are pleasant to look at.

5. The books can be kept reasonably clean if children are made to understand that they must not be taken away, returned, or if possible, read with unwashed hands. City children soon begin to understand this if they are spoken to pleasantly and sent away without a book till they come back in a fit state to handle it.

6. As soon as a child can read and write he should be allowed to use books. A proper guarantee from parent or teacher should, of course, be required.

7. A child in school cannot read more than one story book a week without neglecting his work. If he needs another book in connection with his studies he should take it on a school teacher's, or nonfiction card.

8. It is best, if a child has only one book a week, for his card to be of a different color from others, that it may be more easily distinguished at the charging desk.

9. It has been proved by actual experiment that children will read books which are good in a literary sense if they are interesting. New libraries have the advantage over old ones, that they are not obliged to struggle against a demand for the boys' series that were supplied in large quantities fifteen or twenty years ago.

10. As soon as children learn that in a library there are books and people to help them on any subject, from the care of a sick rabbit to a costume for the Landing of the Pilgrims, they begin to ask advice about their reading. It is a good thing if some of the library assistants are elder sisters in large families who have tumbled about among books, and if some of the questions asked of applicants for library positions relate to what they would give boys or girls to read. If an assistant in a large library shows a special fitness for work with children, it is best to give it into her charge. If all the assistants like it, let them have their share of it.

11. The question of a children's reading room depends on the size of the room for older readers, and how much it is used by them in the afternoons. Conditions vary so much in libraries that it is impossible for one to make a rule for another in this case.

Library Work with Children

Next Section:
How Library Work with Children Has Grown in Hartford and Connecticut.