REFERENCE WORK WITH CHILDREN
Another report based on answers received from various libraries in reply to a list of questions suggests that we are "concerned not so much to supply information as to educate in the use of the library." This report was presented by Miss Harriet H. Stanley at the Waukesha Conference of the A. L. A. in 1901.
Harriet Howard Stanley is a native of Massachusetts. After completing a normal school course and teaching for a few years in secondary schools, she entered the New York State Library School, where she was graduated in 1895. She served for four years as librarian of the Public Library at Southbridge, Mass., and thereafter was for eleven years school reference librarian in the Public Library of Brookline, Mass. Since 1910 she has had positions in the Library of the U. S. Department of Agriculture and the Providence (R. I.) Athenaeum, and was for a year librarian of New Hampshire College. At various times she has taught in summer library schools--Albany, India and McGill University. She is now on the staff of the Public Library of Utica, N. Y.
Preliminary to preparing this report, a list of 15 questions was sent to a number of libraries in different parts of the United States, from 24 of which replies were received. So far as space would permit, the facts and opinions obtained have been embodied in this paper.
Reference work with grown people consists in supplying material on various topics; we consider it sufficiently well done when the best available matter is furnished with as little cost of time and trouble to the inquirer as is consistent with the service we owe to other patrons of the library. To a certain extent this statement is true also of reference work with children, but I think we are agreed that for them our aim reaches further-- reaches to a familiarity with reference tools, to knowing how to hunt down a subject, to being able to use to best advantage the material found. In a word, we are concerned not so much to supply information as to educate in the use of the library. Seventeen of the 24 libraries reporting judge children to be sent to them primarily, if not wholly, for information. One of the first steps towards improving and developing reference work with children will have been taken when the teacher appreciates the larger purpose, since the point of view must materially affect the character and scope of the work. Another forward step is for the library to have definitely in mind some plan for accomplishing these ends. Whatever the plan, it will in likelihood have to be modified to accord with the teacher's judgment and deeds, but a definite proposal ought at least to give impetus to the undertaking.
Six libraries state that a considerable part of the inquiries they receive from children are apparently prompted by their individual interests, and not suggested by the teacher. These inquiries relate chiefly to sports, mechanical occupations and pets. This paper is confined to the discussion of reference work connected with the schools.
In selecting reference books for the purpose, certain familiar ones come at once to our minds. Beyond those there have been suggested: Chase and Clow's "Stories of Industry," "Information readers," Brown's "Manual of commerce," Boyd's "Triumphs and wonders of the 19th century," Patton's "Resources of the United States," Geographical readers, Youth's Companion geographical series, Spofford's "Library of historic characters," Larned's "History for ready reference," Ellis's "Youth's dictionary of mythology," Macomber's "Our authors and great inventors," Baldwin's "Fifty famous stories," "Riverside natural history," Wright's "Seaside and wayside," bound volumes of the Great Round World, and text-books on various subjects.
A dictionary catalog will be useful in teaching the child to look up subjects for himself. If a separate catalog is provided for children, the question arises whether it is wiser to follow closely the A. L. A. headings or to modify them where they differ from topics commonly asked for by children or used as headings in text-books. This question suggests also the advisability of a modified classification for a children's library.
Last and not least, children should have room and service adapted to their needs, so that they may not constantly have to be put aside in deference to the rightful demands of adult readers.
So far as the writer knows, the Public Library of Boston was the first library to open a reference room expressly for children, well equipped and separate from the children's reading room or circulating department, and from the general reference department for adults.
CHOICE OF TOPICS
Many libraries report that they find the topics habitually well chosen. The gist of the criticisms is as follows:
(a) The teacher should make clear to the child just what he is to look up and how to ask for it. An eastern library furnishes this incident:
"I want a book about flowers."
"Do you want a special flower?"
"Yes, I want the rose."
A book on the cultivation of roses is handed her. Her companion, looking over, exclaims, "Why she wants the Wars of the roses!" The same librarian was invited to provide something on American privileges; whether social, religious, political, or otherwise, the child did not know.
(b) The teacher should be reasonably sure that there is on the topic something in print, in usable shape, that can be gotten at with a reasonable amount of labor.
(c) The subject when found should be within the child's comprehension. The topic Grasses is manifestly unfit for children, since grasses are difficult to study, and the description of them in encyclopedias and botanies is too technical. An eight- year-old had to investigate the Abyssinian war. Pupils under 16 were assigned the topic Syncretism in the later pagan movement. A western librarian was asked by some girls for Kipling's "Many inventions" and "Day's work." Both were out. "Well, what other books of Kipling's on agriculture have you?" "Why, Kipling hasn't written any books on agriculture; he writes stories and poems." "But we have to debate on whether agriculture or manufacturing has done more for the welfare of the country, and we want a book on both sides."
(d) The topic should be definite and not too broad, and should be subdivided when necessary. The briefest comprehensive description of Rome is probably that in Champlin's "Persons and places," where the six columns, already much condensed, would take more than an hour to copy. A young girl came to find out about Italian painters. None of the several encyclopedias treated them collectively under either Italy or Art. Mrs. Bolton's book of 10 artists includes four Italians, but it takes some time and skill to discover them, as the fact of their nationality does not introduce the narrative. How should a sixth grade pupil make a selection from the 60 painters in Mrs. Jameson's book? Three names were furnished by the librarian, and the child made notes from their biographies. The next day she returned and said she hadn't enough artists.
(e) The question should preferably be of such nature that the child can be helped to find it rather than be obliged to wait while the librarian does the work. One inquiry was, "What eastern plant is sometimes sold for its weight in gold?" This is not in the book of "Curious questions."
(f) The topic should be worth spending time upon. The genealogy of Ellen Douglas will hardly linger long in the average memory.
USE MADE OF THE MATERIAL BY THE CHILD
Suppose the topic to be good and suitable material to have been found; for older children there are two good ways of using it--one to read through and make notes on the substance, the other to copy in selection. Children need practice in doing both. The first method suits broad description and narration, the second detailed description. There seems to be a prevailing tendency to copy simply, without sufficient neglect of minor points, a process which should be left to the youngest children, since it furnishes little mental training, uses a great deal of time, keeps the writer needlessly indoors, and fosters habits of inattention, because it is easy to copy with one's mind elsewhere. The necessity for using judgment after the article has been found is illustrated by the case of some children who came for the life of Homer. Champlin, in about a column, mentions the limits within which the conjectures as to the time of Homer's birth lie, the places which claim to be his birthplace, and tells of the tradition of the blind harper. The children, provided with the book, plunged at once into copying until persuaded just to read the column through. "When you finish reading," I said, "come to me and tell me what it says." They came and recounted the items, and only after questioning did they at all grasp the gist of the matter, that nothing is known about Homer. Even then their sense of responsibility to produce something tangible was so great that they would copy the details, and from the children who came next day I judged that the teacher had required some facts as to time and place and tradition. While it is true that we learn by doing and it is well that children should rely upon themselves, it is evident that young pupils need some direction. Even when provided with sub-topics, they often need help in selecting and fitting together the appropriate facts, since no article exactly suits their needs. About half of the reporting librarians are of the opinion that it is the teacher's business to instruct pupils in the use of books; they consider the library to have done its share when the child has been helped to find the material. The other half believe such direction as is suggested above to be rightly within the librarian's province; several, however, who express a willingness to give such help, add that under their present library conditions it is impracticable. We can easily see that time would not permit nor would it be otherwise feasible for the teacher to examine every collection of notes made at the library, but there ought to be some systematic work where the topics are thoughtfully chosen, the librarian informed of them in advance, and the notes criticised. A moderate amount of reference work so conducted would be of greater benefit than a large quantity of the random sort which we now commonly have. Five librarians state that they are usually given the topics beforehand. Several others are provided with courses of study or attend grade meetings in which the course is discussed.
SYSTEMATIC INSTRUCTION IN THE USE OF THE LIBRARY
While a general effort is being made to instruct children individually, only a few libraries report any systematic lessons. In Providence each visiting class is given a short description of books of reference. In Hartford an attempt at instruction was made following the vacation book talks. In Springfield, Mass., last year the senior class of the literature department was given a lesson on the use of the library, followed by two practice questions on the card catalog. In one of the Cleveland branches talks are given to both teachers and pupils. At the Central High School of Detroit the school librarian has for the past three years met the new pupils for 40 minutes' instruction, and test questions are given. A detailed account of similar work done in other high school libraries is to be found in the proceedings of the Chautauqua conference. Cambridge has given a lecture to a class or classes of the Latin school. In the current library report of Cedar Rapids, Ia., is outlined in detail a course of 12 lessons on bookmaking, the card catalog, and reference books. The librarian of Michigan City, Ind., writes: "Each grade of the schools, from the fifth to the eighth, has the use of our class room for an afternoon session each month. Each child is assigned a topic on which to write a short composition or give a brief oral report. When a pupil has found all he can from one source, books are exchanged, and thus each child comes into contact with several books. At these monthly library afternoons I give short talks to the pupils on the use of the library, the reference books, and the card catalog, accompanied by practical object lessons and tests." At Brookline our plan is to have each class of the eighth and ninth grades come once a year to our school reference room at the library. The teacher accompanies them, and they come in school hours. The school reference librarian gives the lesson. For the eighth grade we consider the make-up of the book--the title-page in detail, the importance of noting the author, the significance of place and date and copyright, the origin of the dedication, the use of contents and index. This is followed by a description of bookmaking, folding, sewing and binding, illustrated by books pulled to pieces for the purpose. The lesson closes with remarks on the care of books. The ninth grade lesson is on reference books, and is conducted largely by means of questioning. A set of test questions at the end emphasizes the description of the books. In these lessons the pupils have shown an unexpected degree of interest and responsiveness. The course brought about 400 children to the library, a few of whom had never been there before. These were escorted about a little, and shown the catalog, charging desk, bulletins, new book shelves, etc. Every one not already holding a card was given an opportunity to sign a registration slip. The following year the eighth grade, having become the ninth, has the second lesson. With these lessons the attitude of the children towards the library has visibly improved, and we are confident that their idea of its use has been enlarged.
The inquiry was made of the reporting libraries whether any bibliographical work was being done by the high school. The question was not well put, and was sometimes misunderstood. Almost no such work was reported. At Evanston, III., one high school teacher has taught her class to prepare bibliographies, the librarian assisting. At Brookline we have ambitions, not yet realized, of getting each high school class to prepare one bibliography a year (we begin modestly) on some subject along their lines of study. Last May the principals of two grammar schools offered to try their ninth grades on a simple bibliography. The school reference librarian selected some 60 topics of English history--Bretwalda, Sir Isaac Newton, East India Company, the Great Commoner, etc. Each bibliography was to include every reference by author, title and page to be found in the books of the school reference collection of the public library. The pupils displayed no little zest and enjoyment in the undertaking, and some creditable lists were made. Observation of the work confirmed my belief in its great practical value. Pupils became more keen and more thorough than in the usual getting of material from one or two references on a subject. Such training will smooth the way and save the time of those students who are to make use of a college library, and is even more to be desired for those others whose formal education ends with the high or grammar schools.
The practice of sending collections of books from the public library to the schools is becoming general. When these collections are along the lines of subjects studied, it would seem as if the reference use of the library by pupils might be somewhat diminished thereby. No doubt it is a convenience to both teacher and pupils to have books at hand to which to refer. The possession of an independent school library also tends to keep the reference work in the school. But in neither case ought the reference use of the public library or its branches to be wholly or materially overlooked, since it is on that that pupils must depend in after years, and therefore to that they must now be directed. We recognize that the people of modest means need the library. As for the very-well-to-do, the library needs them. Other things being equal, the pupil who has learned to know and to know how to use his public library ought later so to appreciate its needs and so to recognize the benefits it bestows that he will be concerned to have it generously supported and wisely administered.
Even we librarians claim for our public collection no such fine service as is rendered by those private treasures that stand on a person's own shelves, round which "our pastime and our happiness will grow." Books for casual entertainment are more and more easily come by. But so far as our imagination reaches, what private library will for most readers supplant a public collection of books for purposes of study and reference? Is it not then fitting that we spend time and effort to educate young people to the use of the public library? Do not the methods for realizing this end seem to be as deserving of systematic study as the details of classification and of cataloging? We have learned that to bring school authorities to our assistance our faith must be sufficient to convince and our patience must be tempered by a kindly appreciation of the large demands already made upon the schools. Have we not yet to learn by just what lessons and what practice work the reference use of the public library can best be taught to children?