REFERENCE WORK AMONG SCHOOL CHILDREN
The importance of reference work with children is indicated in the next article by the fact that "the subjects on which children seek information are as varied as those brought by older people, and the material is equally elusive." Miss Abby L. Sargent contributed this article to the Library Journal for April, 1895.
Abby Ladd Sargent received her training under her sister, Miss Mary E. Sargent. She reorganized the Wilmington Library Association Library in 1890-1891. From 1891 to 1895 she was librarian of the Middlesex Mechanics Association. In 1895 she became reference librarian and classifier of the Medford Public Library, where her sister was librarian. In 1910, after her sister's death, she became librarian of the Medford Public Library. In 1900 she organized and purchased books for the Owatonna, Minnesota, Public Library. She has been instructor in the Expansive Classification in Simmons College Library School since its opening. Miss Sargent was joint editor and compiler of Sargent's "Reading for the young," and its supplement.
Let us suppose that the momentous problem is solved of persuading children to use the library for more serious purpose than to find a book "as good as 'Mark the match boy,' " and that we are trying to convince children that the library is infallible, and can furnish information on whatever they wish to know about--whether it is some boy who comes on the busiest morning of the week, to find out how to make a puppet show in time to give an afternoon exhibition, or some high-school girl who rushes over in the 20 minutes' recess to write an exhaustive treatise on women's colleges.
It is unnecessary to say that the fewer books the library can supply the more must those few be forced to yield. A large library, with unlimited volumes, meets few of the difficulties which beset smaller and poorer institutions.
If the librarian can name at once "a poem about Henry of Navarre," or tell who wrote "by the rude bridge that arched the flood," and on what monument it is engraved, can furnish material for debate on "the Chinese question," "which city should have the new normal school," "who was Mother Goose," or on any possible or impossible subject, she gains at once the confidence of the severest of critics, and is sure of their future patronage.
The subjects on which children seek information are as varied as those brought by older people and the material is equally elusive. Perhaps the hardest questions to answer are about the allusions which are found in literature studies, and which frequently the teacher who has given the question cannot answer. I find it helpful whenever I come across material of this nature to make a reference to it in the catalog, and, in fact, to analyze carefully all juvenile books, not fiction, whose titles give no hint of the contents. A great many books otherwise valueless become thus most useful, especially if one is pressed for time.
Mr. Jones, in his "Special reading lists," gives many such references to juvenile literature. Books like Ingersoll's "Country cousins," which contains an article on shell money, also an account of Professor Agassiz's laboratory at Newport; Mary Bamford's "Talks by queer folks," giving many of the superstitions prevalent about animals; the set of books by Uncle Lawrence, "Young folks' ideas," "Queries," and "Whys and wherefores," recently republished under the title "Science in story," and others of this sort, if carefully indexed, answer many of the questions brought every day by children, and amply repay for the trouble. For even if juvenile books are classified on the shelves, much time is wasted in going through many indexes.
A wide-awake teacher often gives his pupils the events of the day to study, and if they cannot grasp the situation from the daily papers, juvenile periodicals furnish the best material. For this a classified index is indispensable; it makes available accounts of the workings of government, the weather bureau, mint, and other intangible topics. Until the recent publication of Capt. King's "Cadet days," I knew of no other place to find any description of West Point routine outside of Boynton's or Cullum's histories. One glimpse of either would convince any boy he would rather try some other subject.
A short article often suffices to give the main facts. My experience, both as teacher and librarian, persuades me that the average child is eminently statistical. "A horse is an animal with four legs--one at each corner," is fairly representative of the kind of information he seeks. When he becomes diffuse, we may feel sure he has had help. Sissy Jupes are of course to be found, who cannot grapple with facts.
Working on this principle, I have made liberal use of a book issued by the U. S. Government--"The growth of industrial art." It gives, in pictures, with only a line or two of description, the progress of different industries--such as the locomotive, from the clumsy engine of 1802 to the elaborate machinery of the present day; the evolution of lighting, from the pine-knot and tallow-dip to the electric light; methods of signalling, from the Indian fire-signal to the telegraph; time-keeping, etc. A child will get more ideas from one page of pictures than from a dozen or more pages of description and hard words.
If lack of space compels one to deny the privilege of going to the shelves, it seems to me more essential for children to have ready access to reference-books, and especially to be taught how to use them, than for grown-up people. The youngest soon learn to use "Historical notebooks," Champlin's Cyclopaedias, Hopkins' "Experimental science," "Boys' and Girls' handy books," and others of miscellaneous contents. If they have a mechanical bent they will help themselves from Amateur Work or "Electrical toy-making"; if musical, from Mrs. Lillie's "Story of music" or Dole's "Famous composers"; if they have ethical subjects to write about, they find what they need in Edith Wiggin's "Lessons in manners," Everett's "Ethics for young people," or Miss Ryder's books, which give excellent advice in spite of their objectionable titles. They can find help in their nature studies in Gibson's "Sharp-eyes," Lovell's "Nature's wonder workers," Mrs. Dana's "How to know the wild flowers," or turn to Mrs. Bolton's or Lydia Farmer's books to learn about famous people, if they are encouraged to do so. These, of course, are only a few of the books which can be used in this way. As the different holidays come round there are frequent applications for the customs of those days, or for appropriate selections for school or festival. Miss Matthews and Miss Ruhl have helped us out in their "Memorial day selections," and McCaskey's "Christmas in song, sketch, and story," and the "Yule-tide collection" give great variety. If the juvenile periodicals do not furnish the customs, they can, of course, be found in Brand's "Popular antiquities," or Chambers's "Book of days." It is necessary sometimes to use the books for older people, since there is a point where childhood and grown-up-hood meet. I was recently obliged to give quite a small child Knight's "Mechanical dictionary," to find out when and where weather-vanes were first used, and to give a grammar-school girl Mrs. Farmer's "What America owes to women," for material for a graduating essay.
A few excellent suggestions for general reference work are given in Miss Plummer's "Hints to small libraries"; but in spite of all the aids at command there come times when our only resource is to follow the adage, "look till you find it and your labor won't be lost," and to accept the advice of Cap'n Cuttle, "When found, make a note on't."