LIBRARY MEMBERSHIP AS A CIVIC FORCE
A broader idea of library work with children necessitates greater knowledge of other agencies which work with them and a spirit of willing cooperation on the part of the children's librarian. From her experience in the city of Washington Miss Herbert contributed the following article of The Library Journal. Clara Wells Herbert was born in Stockbridge, Mass.; was a student in Vassar from 1894 to 1896; received a special certificate from the Training School for Children's Librarians in 1904; was children's librarian in the Brooklyn Public Library from 1904 to 1907, and since that time has been the head of the Children's department in the Public Library of the District of Columbia.
The children's departments of many city libraries are carrying on a fine aggressive work and through branch children's rooms, close work with schools, including deposits of books in classrooms, deposits of books and story-telling in playgrounds, home libraries and home visiting, are coming close to the children and putting good books within their reach. Such work rests upon a large staff and a generous appropriation. On the other hand, the small town library has the advantage of informal relations with its people and is a part of the various activities of the town. Between these two types of libraries is a third. It is located in a city too large for the helpful informal relations of the town library. It cannot, on the other hand, carry on its own aggressive work, for it is hampered by the smallness of its staff and the meagerness of its appropriation.
To libraries of this sort the effecting of cordial relations with other civic institutions is of the utmost importance. Upon it depends largely the outside work of the library and a specialized knowledge of conditions very essential for intelligent work.
Nor is the library the only one to profit by cooperation.
"I never thought of asking for help there," said a probation officer recently when talking of her difficulties in keeping a record of the use of the withdrawn books given to the court by the library. Not more than we need the benefit of the intimate personal knowledge of conditions of such workers, do they often need the help the library stands ready and eager to give but which they do not think to ask.
The work of the children's department should be then twofold in purpose--to reach the children directly as far as possible, and to establish such relations with other organizations as will render it a vital interested force in the community, a place where people will naturally turn for help along the line of its work.
Certain practices which have been found useful in effecting this cooperation may be suggestive, but the basis of any satisfactory relationship is interest and the desire to help and has its beginnings in the children's room.
The children's librarian should keep always in mind that the city is full of workers who, strong in the belief that the hope of the future is in the children, are doing devoted work in their behalf. Sooner or later they will visit the children's room and the opportunity presents itself to know their particular line of work. It is interesting to note in how many of such cases the conversation contains something which may be applied with advantage to the library's activities. At least, the visitor receives the impression that the library assistant is interested in any work done for children and, if at some future time a need presents itself, turns to her for assistance.
This interest is also shown if the children's librarians attend meetings or conferences held in behalf of children or from which they may gather information on home conditions. Frequently there are courses of lectures given by charity organizations or club meetings of sociological workers where the problems of the city are discussed.
Libraries having staff or apprentice meetings frequently invite as speakers persons representing some particular phase of work, and these occasions engender mutual interest. In other cases librarians have added to their staffs former kindergartners and charity workers that they might profit by their special training and the knowledge of conditions gathered from their former experiences.
Much may be said of the undesirability of distributing withdrawn books among institutions. But in libraries where the maintenance of travelling collections is limited they afford perhaps the only opportunity of reaching the children in orphanages, reform schools and similar institutions. Such distributions should be followed by visits to the institutions to talk, if possible, to the children and to get an idea of their needs and tastes.
Collections of withdrawn books at the juvenile court are used by the children while on probation and often after release, and by the grown people of their families as well. In Cleveland the list of official parents and paroled boys is furnished the library and booklists and information about the nearest branch are sent them. In Washington the library supplies the probation officers with application blanks. When a child who has shown a taste for reading is to be discharged the officer on the last visit to his home takes the application blank and secures the parent's signature. The child brings the application to the library, obtains cards immediately and is helped in his selection of books.
The attendance or truant officers of the schools know home conditions better than teachers. They have a general knowledge of the city and the peculiarities of the different sections that is most helpful in the selection of places for home libraries or deposit stations. Their knowledge of the home life of troublesome children will often throw light on difficult cases of discipline.
In Washington the attendance officer issues permits under the child labor law. From this office may be secured a list of stores and other places of employment for children. The library should send notices to such buildings and place at the office invitations to use the library to be distributed at the time the permits for work are issued.
The Cleveland Public Library uses for a mailing list for publications pertaining to children's work a card directory of social workers. This directory gives the name, address and connection of each individual and includes board members of set- tlement houses, associated charities, visiting nurses' associations, pastors and their assistants, of churches conducting club work, and others similarly engaged. In some cities this same information may be gathered from the published directory of philanthropic agencies and their reports. Lists such as those published by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, "Stories to tell to children," "Books for reading circles," "Games," or lists made especially in connection with the activities of a settlement, playground, etc., mailed to its club workers attract them to the library.
Rainy days when the hours drag and the children cannot be out of doors are good times to visit summer camps and vacation homes. There may be an opportunity to tell stories or for a talk to the children which, when their vacation is over, they are glad to remember.
There are two special collections which it is well for the children's department to have--one for the children and one for grown people.
It should follow Newark's notable example in putting into form, adapted for children's use, all the information regarding the city, its institutions, historic spots, etc. The collection of such material informs the assistants, attracts the cooperation of those from whom the information is sought and by acquainting the child with the manifold features of the life of the city, helps to prepare him for intelligent citizenship.
It should collect, also, all material relative to the children of the city. It should have reports of settlements, institutions, summer camps and homes, day nurseries, work with foreigners, mounted maps of the location of schools and playgrounds, copies of the child labor law, compulsory education act, in fact, any information obtainable about the conditions of the child life of the city. Such material will draw interested people to the library and thus open up opportunities for further cooperation.
Such are a few of the many ways in which the children's room may be tied to other organizations working for children. Under the varied conditions of different cities they develop indefinitely. Only a few could be mentioned here. Even the work with schools and playgrounds, the importance of which is generally established, has not been included. As these relations grow closer and closer the library's work broadens and deepens and the realization that all are workers in a common cause brings encouragement and inspiration for the daily task.