STORY TELLING--A PUBLIC LIBRARY METHOD
The National Child Conference for Research and Welfare was organized at a meeting held at Clark University, Worcester, Mass., in July, 1909. Several papers on library topics were presented at this meeting, one of the most interesting of which was given by Miss Olcott. In this paper she presents the story hour as a method of introducing "large groups of children simultaneously to great literature," and asserts that "the library story hour becomes, if properly utilized, an educational force as well as a literary guide."
Frances Jenkins Olcott was born in Paris, France; was educated under private tutors, and was graduated from the New York State Library School in 1896. From 1898 to 1911 she was Chief of the Children's Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. In 1900 she organized and became the Director of the Training School for Children's Librarians. Since 1911 Miss Olcott has contributed to library work with children by writing and editing books for parents and for children.
The library is a latter day popular educational development. It supplements the work of the church, the home, the school and the kindergarten. Its function is to place within the reach of all the best thought of the world as conserved in the printed page. This being its natural function, all methods selected by the library should tend directly to arouse interest in the best reading. Methods which do not do this are, for the library, ineffective and a waste of valuable energy and public funds.
The library movement has grown with such startling rapidity that it has not been possible to codify the best methods of library work, but there has been an earnest endeavor to establish a body of library pedagogy by careful experimentation. Unfortunately during this experimental stage methods have been introduced which do not produce direct library results. Many of these methods, which in this paper it is not expedient to enumerate, are interesting and appeal to the imagination; they may impart knowledge, but they are not, strictly speaking, library methods.
As childhood and youth are the times in which to lay the foundation for the habit of reading and of discrimination in reading, it falls to the library worker with children to build up a system of sound library pedagogy leading to the increased intelligent use of the library. The library worker has to deal with large crowds of children of all ages, all classes and nationalities. In a busy children's room she is rarely able to provide enough assistants to do the necessary routine work and help each individual child select his reading, therefore it becomes necessary for her to direct the children's reading through large groups and to adapt for this purpose methods used by other educational institutions. But these methods have to be adapted in a practical, forceful way, otherwise they become sentimental and ineffectual. For instance, a method useful in the kindergarten for teaching ethics, in the public schools for teaching geography, science or history, if rightly applied by the public library, may be useful in arousing interest in good books and reading. Such is the story telling method, one of the most effective, if rightly applied, which the public library uses to introduce large groups of children simultaneously to great literature. On the other hand, if the library worker uses story telling merely as a means of inculcating knowledge or teaching ethics, the story fails to produce public library results and the method becomes the weakest of methods, as it absorbs time, physical energy, and library funds which should be expended to increase good reading.
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh began systematic story telling to large groups of children in 1899. After a few months a decided change was noted in the children's reading. The stories were selected from Shakespeare's plays and there came an increasing demand for books containing the plays, or stories from them. It became evident that if a story was carefully prepared with the intention of arousing interest in reading, it could prove a positive factor in directing the reading of large groups of children. The method was adopted throughout the library system and extended to the various children's reading rooms, home libraries, playgrounds and city schools. In order to make the story telling effective and systematic, a subject was chosen for each year, stories being told every Friday afternoon in the lecture rooms of the Central and Branch libraries and at varying intervals in the other agencies. Large numbers of duplicates of children's books containing the stories were purchased and placed on story hour shelves in the children's rooms. Announcements of the story hours were made in the public schools and notices posted on the bulletins in the children's reading rooms. The children responded so eagerly that it became almost impossible to handle the large crowds attending weekly and it was quite impossible to supply the demand for the books which, previous to the story hour, had not been popular.
The story hour courses are planned to extend over eight years and are selected from romantic and imaginative literature. For the first two years nursery tales, legends, fables and standard stories are told. For the following years--Stories from Greek Mythology; Stories from Norse Mythology and the Nibelungenlied; Stories of King Arthur and the Round Table, and legends of Charlemagne; Stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey; Stories from Chaucer and Spenser; Stories from Shakespeare. At the end of the eight years the cycle is repeated.
The story hours are conducted most informally. The stories are told, not in the children's rooms, as this would interfere with the order and discipline of the rooms, but in the study and lecture rooms of the library buildings. As far as possible a group is limited to thirty-six children. When stories are told to children over ten or twelve years of age, the boys and girls are placed in separate groups. This enables the story teller to develop her story to suit the varied tastes of her audience.
The children sit on benches constructed especially for the story hour. The benches are made according to the following measurements: 14 in. from floor to top of seat; seat 12 in. wide; 3 benches 9 ft. long, one bench 7 ft. long. Benches made without backs. Four benches are placed in the form of a hollow square, the story teller sitting with the children. In this way the children are not crowded and the story teller can see all their faces. It is more hygienic and satisfactory than allowing the children to crowd closely about the story teller. The story hour benches are so satisfactory that we are introducing them as fast as possible into all of our library buildings.
Each story is carefully prepared beforehand by the story teller. In the Training School for Children's Librarians conducted by this Library, all the students are obliged to take the regular course in story telling which includes lectures and weekly practice. Informality in story telling is encouraged. Dramatic or elocutionary expression is avoided, the self-conscious, the elaborate and the artificial are eliminated; we try to follow as closely as possible the spontaneous folk spirit. The children sit breathless, lost in visions created by a sympathetic and un- self-conscious story teller.
In closing I should like to dwell for a moment on what have been called the "by-products" of the Library story hour. Besides guiding his reading, a carefully prepared, well told story enriches a child's imagination, stocks his mind with poetic imagery and literary allusions, develops his powers of concentration, helps in the unfolding of his ideas of right and wrong, and develops his sympathetic feelings; all of which "by-products" have a powerful influence on character. Thus the library story hour becomes, if properly utilized, an educational force as well as a literary guide.