VALUES IN LIBRARY WORK WITH CHILDREN
This second paper on Values in library work with children, was presented at the Kaaterskill Conference of the A. L. A. in 1913 by Caroline Burnite. In it are discussed "departmental organization as it benefits the reading child, and the principles and policies which have developed through departmental unity." For inclusion in this volume it has been somewhat condensed by the author.
Caroline Burnite was born in Caroline County, Maryland, in 1875; was graduated from the Easton, Maryland, High School in 1892 and from Pratt Institute Library School in 1894. From 1895 to 1901 she was librarian of the Tome Institute in Port Deposit, Maryland. She was an assistant in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh from 1902 to 1904, when she became Director of Children's Work in the Cleveland Public Library, the position she now holds. Miss Burnite is also an instructor in the Western Reserve Library School.
To elucidate principles of value, I shall use, by way of illustration, the experience and structure of a children's department where the problem of children's reading and the means of bringing books to them has been intensively studied for some nine years.... Probably about six out of ten of the children of that city read library books in their homes during the year, and each child reads about twenty books on the average. In all, fifty- four thousand children read a million books, which reach them through forty-three librarians assigned for special work with these children, through three hundred teachers and about one hundred volunteers.
Now, we know that six out of ten children is not an ideal proportion of the total number. We know also, inversely, that the volume of work entailed in serving fifty-four thousand children may endanger the quality of book service given to each child. Both of these conditions show that the experience of each reading child should make its own peculiar contribution to the general problem of children's reading and that the experience of large numbers of reading children should be brought to bear upon the problem of the individual. To accomplish this, work with the children was given departmental organization. My concern in this paper is with departmental organization as it benefits the reading child, and with the principles and policies which have been developed through departmental unity.
We think ordinarily that one who loves books has three general hallmarks: his reading is fairly continuous, there is a permanency of book interest, and this interest is maintained on a plane of merit. But in the child's contact with the library there are many evidences of modifications of normal book interests. Instead of continuity of reading, the children's rooms are overcrowded in winter and have far less use in summer; instead of permanency of book interest extending over the difficult intermediate period, large numbers of those children who leave school before they reach high school have little or no library contact during their first working years, and without doubt the interesting experiences with working children, which librarians are prone to emphasize, give us an impression that a larger number are readers than careful investigation would show. And as for the quality of reading of many children who are at work we cannot maintain that it is always on a high plane.
Such results are largely due to environmental influences. Deprived for the greater part of the year at least, of opportunity for normal youthful activities, the child's entire physical and mental schedule is thrown out of balance and he turns to reading, a recreation at his service at any time, only when there is little opportunity to follow other interests. Since the strain upon the ear and the eye, and back and brain is so great in the shop, the tendency in the first working years is too often toward recreations in which the book has no place. The power of the nickel library over the younger boy and girl can be broken by the presence of the public library, but the quality of the reading of the intermediate is often due to the popularity of the mediocre modern novel, with its present-day social interests. For these and other reasons, the whole judgment of the results of library work with children can not rest upon such general tests of normal book interests as we have stated. Rather such variations from the normal are themselves conditions which influence the structure of the work and especially the principles of book presentation. Children with pressing social needs must have books with social values to meet those needs; chiefest of these are right social contacts, true social perspective, traditions of family and race, loveliness of nature, companionship of living things, right group association and group interests.
Starting with the principle that books should construct a larger social ideal for the greater number of children instead of confirming their present one, it was first necessary to find out from actual work with children, what their reactions to books with various interests are. Such knowledge was supplemented by the recorded testimony of men and women of their indebtedness to children's books, especially such as "Tom Brown" and "Little Women," and especially of their youthful appreciation of the relationships and interdependence of the characters.
After we were able to evaluate books and to have some definite idea of which were good and which poor, the question arose: Should we have books with manifestly weak values in the library as a concession to some children who might not read the better books, or by having them do we harm most those very children to whom we have conceded them? The gradual solution of this problem seems to me to be one of the greatest services which a library can render its children. A safe answer seems to be: No books weak in social ideals should be furnished, provided we do not lose reading children by their elimination. If such books are the best a child will read, and we take them away, causing him to lose interest in reading, he is apt to come under even less favorable influences.
Another problem which arose was that the cumulative experience of librarians working with children showed that many books, weak in social viewpoint, lead only to others of their kind, and that such books are the ones read largely by those children which are most occasional and spasmodic in their reading. Here was a determining point in the establishment of standards of reading, for it brought us face to face with the question: Shall we consider this situation our fault since we supply such books to children who need something better vastly more than do children in happier circumstances, or shall we merely justify our selection by maintaining that those children will under no circumstances read a higher grade of books? However, observation showed that other books were read also by children with social limitations; books which, although apparently no better, lead to a better type of reading, and this prompted the policy of the removal of books which had little apparent influence in developing a good reading taste. This was done, however, with the definite intention that an increasingly better standard of reading must mean that no children cease using the library, an end only made possible by a knowledge of the value of the individual book to the individual child.
Now let us see what changes have been evolved in the book collections in the department under consideration:
At first the proportion of books of the doubtful class to those which were standard was considered, and it was seen that this preponderance of the doubtful class should be decreased in order that a child's chances for eventually reading the best might be improved. It is obvious that the reading for the younger children should be the more carefully safeguarded, and this was the first point of attack. As a result, two types of books were eliminated:
1. All series for young children, such as Dotty Dimples and Little Colonels.
2. Books for young children dealing with animal life which have neither humane nor scientific value, such as Pierson and Wesselhoeft.
Also stories of child life for young children were restricted to those which were more natural and possible, and on the other hand, stories read by older girls in which adults were made the beneficiaries of a surprisingly wise child hero, such as the Plympton books, were eliminated.
The successful elimination of these books, together with the study of the children's reading as a whole, suggested later, that other books could be eliminated or restricted without loss of readers. In the course of time, the following results were accomplished:
1. The restriction of the stories of the successful poor boy to those within the range of possibility, as are the Otis books, largely.
2. The elimination of stories in which the child character is not within a normal sphere; for instance, the child novel, such as Mrs. Jamison's stories.
3. Lessening the number of titles by authors who are undeservedly popular, such as restricting the use of Tomlinson to one series only.
4. The restriction of any old and recognized series to its original number of titles, such as the Pepper series. The disapproval of all new books obviously the first in a series.
5. The elimination of travel, trivial in treatment and in series form, such as the Little Cousins.
6. The elimination of the modern fairy tale, except as it has vitality and individual charm, as have those of George McDonald.
7. The elimination of interpreted folk lore, such as many of the modern kindergarten versions.
8. The elimination of word books for little children, and the basing of their reading upon their inherent love for folk lore and verse.
Without analyzing the weakness of all these types, I wish to say a word about the series. This must be judged not only by content, but by the fact that in the use of such a form of literature the tendency of the child toward independence of book judgment and book selection is lessened and the way paved for a weak form of adult literature.
The later policies developed regarding book selection have been these:
1. Recognizing "blind alleys" in children's fiction, such as the boarding school story and the covert love story, and buying no new titles of those types.
2. Lessening the number of titles of miscellaneous collections of folk-lore in which there are objectionable individual tales, for instance, buying only the Blue, Green and Yellow fairy books.
3. The elimination, or use in small numbers, of a type of history and biography which is not scholarly, or even serious in treatment, such as the Pratt histories.
4. The elimination of such periodical literature for young children, as the Children's Magazine and Little Folks, since their reading can be varied more wholesomely without it.
Reports of reading sequences from each children's room have furnished the basis for further study of children's reading. These are discussed and compared by the workers, a working outline of reading sequences made and reported back to each room, to be used, amplified and reported on again.
While those books which are no longer used may have been at one time necessary to hold a child from reading something poorer, we did not lose children through raising the standard, and the duplication of doubtful books in the children's room is less heavy now than it was a few years ago. This is shown by the fact that there are more than twice as many children who are reading, and almost three times as many books being read as there were nine years ago, while the number of children of the city has increased but 72 per cent. Furthermore, the proportion of children of environmental limitations has by no means diminished, and the foreign population is much the same--more than 74 per cent.
Of course, the elimination of some books was accomplished because there were better books on the subject, but the general result was largely brought about because in the establishment of these higher standards we did not exceed the ideals and standards of those who were working with the children. The standards which they brought to the work, and which they deduced themselves from their experience, were crystalized through Round Table discussion, where each worker measured her results by those of the others and thereby recognized the need of constant, but careful experimentation.
Experience has proved that a children's department can not reach standards of reading which in the judgment of librarians working with the children are beyond the possibility of attainment, for with them rests entirely the delicate task of the adjustment of the book to the child. A staff of children's librarians of good academic education, the best library training, a true vision of the social principles; a broad knowledge of children's literature is the greatest asset for any library doing children's work.
But it is true, inversely, that in raising the standards of the children the standards of the workers were raised. By this I mean that with definite methods of book presentation in use, the worker saw farther into the mental and material life of the child and understood his social instincts better. This has been evidenced in the larger duplication of the better books. Among the methods are those which recognize group interest and group association as a social need of childhood. Through unifying and intensifying the thoughts and sympathies of the children by giving them great and universal thought in the story hour, the mediocre is often bridged and both the child and the worker reaches a higher plane of experience. Also by giving children a group interest, not only children recognize that books may be cornerstones for social intercourse and that there is connection between social conduct as expressed in books and their own social obligations, but what is also important, the worker learns that when children are at the age of group activity and expression they can often be more permanently influenced as a group than as individuals. This prompted the organization of clubs for older children.
Through the recognition of the principle that there are methods of book appeal for use with individual children and other methods for groups of children, it was shown that the organization of the work as a whole must be such that the chief methods of presentation of literature could be fully developed. It was seen that, far less with a group of children than with the individual child, could we afford to give a false experience or an unfruitful interest, and that material for group presentation, methods of group presentation and the social elements which are evinced in groups of children should receive an amount of attention and study which would lead to the surest and soundest results. This could be fully accomplished only by recognizing such methods as distinct functions of the department. In other words, that there should not only be divisions of work with children according to problems of book distribution, such as by schools and home libraries, but there must be of necessity, divisions by problems of reading. Whereas, in a smaller department all divisions would center in the head, the volume of work in a large library renders necessary the appointment of an instructor in story-telling and a supervisor of reading clubs, which results in a higher specialization and a greater impetus for these phases of work than one person can accomplish. Here we have a concrete instance of the benefit that a large volume of work may confer upon the individual child.
With the attainment of better reading results and higher standards for the workers, it is obvious that the reading experiences of the children and the standards of the workers must be conserved, and that the organization should protect the children, as far as possible, from the disadvantage of change of workers. Considerable study has been given to this, and yearly written reports on the reading of children in each children's room are made, in which variations from accepted standards of the children's reading in that library, with individual instances, are usually discussed. However, the children's librarian is entirely free to report the subject from whatever angle it has impressed her most. Also a written report is made of the story hour, the program, general and special results, and intensity of group interest in certain types of stories. This report is supplementary to a weekly report in prescribed form, of the stories told, sources used and results. All programs used with clubs are reported and semi-annual report made of the club work as a whole. By discussion and reports back to individual centers, these become bases for a wider vision of work and a wiser direction of energy with less experimentation.
The connection between work with children and the problem of the reading of intermediates, referred to in the beginning, should not be dismissed in a paragraph. However, it is only possible to give a short statement of it. Recognizing that the reading of adult books should begin in the children's room, a serious study of adult books possible for children's reading was made by the children's librarians, the reports discussed and the books added to the department as the result. A second report of adult titles which children and intermediates might and do read was called for recently and from that a tentative list had been furnished to both adult and children's workers for further study. The increasing number of workers in the children's department who have had general training, and in the adult work who have had special training for work with children make such reports of much value. In order to follow the standards of children's work, there is one principle which is obvious, namely, a book disapproved as below grade for juveniles should not be accepted for general intermediate work. This is especially true of books of adventure which a boy of any age between 12 and 18 would read.
In conclusion, the chief means of determining values in library work with children are these: An intensive study of the reading of children in relation to its social and informational worth to them; the right basis of education and training for such study, on the part of the workers; the direction of such study in a way that brings about a higher and more practical standard on the part of the worker; the conservation of her experience. These are the great services which the library may render children and they can be most fully accomplished, I believe, through departmental organization.