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Problems of a Scottish Provincial Town
Chapter X. The Public Library


[The writer takes this opportunity of expressing his indebtedness to the present librarian for the unfailing courtesy he has received from him, and trusts he need hardly say that the criticism contained in this chapter is directed against a system, not an individual.]

THE Free Library of Dunfermline is perhaps the most forlorn institution which the town possesses. It was built in the year 1883, and is reported to be the first library erected through the generosity of Mr. Carnegie. The exterior of the building, though far from beautiful, is not displeasing, but the arrangement of the interior is faulty and objectionable. It has been planned without any real knowledge of the needs of a library, and I find without surprise that the use which is made of the building is a quite insignificant one.

The present accommodation consists of a Lending Library, a Men's Reading-room, and a Ladies' Reading-room. In the centre of the Lending Library is a small Reference Department, and two small tables, each capable of holding four readers, are provided for students in this department. The Men's Reading-room has a most cheerless and forbidding aspect; its fittings are poverty-stricken, it is badly ventilated, and few who are not compelled to enter it would willingly do so. Much the same might be said of the Ladies' Reading-room.

I therefore propose to consider in detail how the library may be reorganised and made worthy of its mission as a centre of light and leading in the city.

The building itself claims first consideration. This is entirely inadequate for its purpose, and the internal arrangement of the rooms entails great waste of space due to needless passages and vestibules. The building could hardly be adapted to the needs of the town unless the interior were gutted out and rebuilt. Two alternatives are therefore before the town : either a new library entirely must be built, or else the present building must be enlarged and the interior rebuilt. Of these schemes perhaps the wiser plan would be to build a new library. It would probably be as cheap in the end as enlarging the old one, and it would certainly be the more efficient way of dealing with the difficulty.

But whether it be a new building, or the old one extended, the needs of the town should be frankly recognised and met, and arrangements, which an intelligent village would scarcely tolerate, must no longer be regarded as sufficient for a town of twenty-six thousand inhabitants. The public has already been given to understand that the rebuilding of the library will be undertaken by the Carnegie Trust, by an arrangement with the Town Council. It is open to discussion whether the expense of extending and maintaining the library should be done at the expense of the Trust—which is instructed not to relieve the town of the ordinary obligations of progressive communities—or at the direct expense of the ratepayers, That question may be left for local discussion and settlement, and I proceed on the assumption that the trustees will themselves undertake the equipment and the management of the new library,

In commencing the work of reorganisation the trustees should not be content to acquaint themselves simply with what has been done in neighbouring Scottish towns, or in English towns. They should, indeed, know what is being done, and what has been done in England and Scotland, but they should also examine the systems in operation elsewhere, and particularly in the United States of America. The information with regard to America should be before them before the design for the new building is decided upon. For I shall hardly be accused of exaggeration in stating that library organisation and administration in America have been carried to a point higher than has been reached in this country, The new library will, of course, possess the usual features of all free libraries. It should, however, go beyond these; and I plead for the inclusion of new features in the reorganised library,

In the present library the Lending Department is on the first floor. Modern experience tends to show that this is a mistake, and that the Lending Department should be on the ground floor. This is an encouragement to borrowers of books; the arrangement saves their time, and the sight of the Lending Department as he passes its doors to reach other departments in the library is a constant encouragement to the casual visitor to the library to become a borrower.

After the influence of the librarian himself—and it is, of course, unnecessary to state that the presence of a thoroughly capable man, with the requisite training, culture, and knowledge, is indispensable to the success of any library—the method of rendering the books available to the public is one of the most important matters for consideration. At present the antiquated method of the book catalogue, which rapidly becomes dirty, dog-eared and torn, and which involves reference to numerous smaller supplements, is in operation. In the new library the American card system should be introduced. Under this system the catalogue is always complete, it can be kept in the strictest alphabetical order, any number of cross references may be made, and its simplicity is such that any intelligent child can readily understand and use it. Most libraries in this country use this system, and the day is not far distant when it will be universal. But however content we are to go no further, more is necessary. We have not yet sufficiently realised the importance of bibliographies in public libraries. The evidence of American libraries, and of some in this country, proves that the circulation and study of books are increased in an extraordinary degree by the issue of bibliographies on special subjects, and these, therefore, the librarian should be competent to prepare. There should be permanent bibliographies on such subjects as are of ever continuing interest, and there should be occasional bibliographies issued to meet the needs of students of public questions as they arise, and also—and this is most important of all,—to create students, and so gradually to supply the antidote for the influence—too often pernicious—of the party newspaper.

I write, for instance, at a time when the fiscal policy is occupying almost the sole attention of public speakers. It should be possible to go into the Dunfermline Library, and there find a bibliography of all books in the library dealing with this question, with the history and growth of our colonies, with the methods of other countries, with the treatment of the subject in past years by our own country. It should be possible for us at the present moment to ask for and to receive from the librarian a printed slip, or slips, giving us details of all books in the library dealing with Japan and with Russia. And so with regard to all other great questions as they arise. Of course, it would be the duty of the librarian to exercise his discretion with regard to the issue of these bibliographies, and due sense of proportion must be observed, since it is obvious that it would not be possible to issue a bibliography on every subject which occupied the momentary attention of the daily press. These bibliographies should also be annotated, and a very brief indication of the contents of the books given, so that even the ignorant person might be able to judge whether it was the book he wanted. As these special lists were prepared they would be printed in slip or pamphlet form for general distribution, and also exhibited in the library.

In equipping a library it is not sufficient to furnish a room with a few uncomfortable chairs and tables, and call it, by virtue of a few newspapers and magazines, a reading-room. The latter should be a well-lighted, well-ventilated room, and ventilation should not depend upon the windows being open, for the latter are certain to be found shut on ninety-nine out of every hundred days. The present reading-room, for instance, generally has a fusty atmosphere, repellent and unhealthy, and the interests of the public health make it necessary for the ventilation of all the rooms to be so arranged as to prevent it being stopped by the occupants of the room.

Then let every care be exercised in the fittings; and here again we cannot do better than copy America, whose superiority in this connection may be judged from the study of photographs of the interiors of its public libraries. In the Dunfermline reading-room there is an absence of any magazine-racks, of any newspaper-stands, of any provision for writing. There is not even a list exhibited of the magazines and newspapers in the room, and the only way to find these out is to grope amongst the litter on each of the tables. These points should be rectified. The arrangements of the room should be systematised. It would then be treated seriously, and recognised as a real educational force; at present it is largely a mere shelter for loafers.

It can hardly be said that the Dunfermline Library at present possesses a reference department. The extent of the accommodation has already been indicated. In the new library a special reference department should be provided. There are so many admirable reference departments in connection with the libraries in this kingdom that it is hardly necessary to labour the details of such a department. I would, however, urge the trial of a plan which has been most successfully introduced abroad and at a few places in the United Kingdom. That is, of allowing the reader to have free access to the shelves, and to select the books he requires himself, but having, of course, the right of the librarian's assistance whenever he requires it. I believe in this method of trusting the reader, and that the cases in which the privilege would be abused are very few indeed. The system saves the demands upon the librarian's time, it enables the reader more readily to get the books most suitable for his purpose, and to become acquainted with many that he would not know under the old system. The one point of criticism of this method which it is necessary to refer to, is that the borrower could not be  trusted to replace the books in their proper places after perusal. But this difficulty, if it be a real one, can be met by requiring borrowers after using the books to leave them on the tables, to be replaced on the shelves later by the librarian. It is to be hoped that this system of open shelves will be extended before long to the Lending Department also, although here the difficulties to be dealt with are somewhat greater than in the reference department.

So far I have dealt with suggested improvements in the ordinary departments common to all libraries. I propose now to examine one or two new features which might be incorporated in the reorganised Dunfermline Library.

The first of these is a Juvenile Department. This feature, though by no means universal, is far from being unknown in this country. It was first introduced in America, and has been copied here in a number of libraries. It is in every way an admirable development of library work, and one which is most fruitful in great and lasting results. In the chapters upon the Boys' Club I have touched upon the extent of the evil arising from the trashy and frequently vicious papers which are issued for the demoralisation of our youth. The Children's Room of the Free Library will go far to grapple with this undoubted evil. It will be a room entirely devoted to its youthful patrons. It should be in charge of a sympathetic librarian who is a lover of children. It should have the open-shelf system, and its books should be selected with the utmost care. There should be plenty of wall space uncovered by book-shelves for the display of reproductions of great pictures, which may be changed at intervals.

It should be a bright, cosy, happy-looking room, and its tables should be covered with healthy, high-toned magazines, of which, fortunately, there exists a considerable number in this country. Readers who care for more information on the work of Children's Libraries may be referred to an article by Miss Eccles on "Children's Libraries" in the New Ireland Review for October, 1904. Miss Eccles gives an interesting account of the lines pursued in Children's Libraries in the United States. The movement began twenty-five years ago at Worcester, Mass., as a result of a consultation between the library and the school authorities, with a view to seeing how library books might, with advantage, be used in schools. A system was adopted under which any school teacher was allowed two special cards. By means of one of these he might take out six books at a time for his own use in preparing exercises or study. The other card enabled him to take out twelve books for the use of his scholars, either at the schoolroom or in their homes. These books were shown in the schoolroom, and the children could examine and choose the one they preferred. The books were sent to the school by the library authorities, and collected at the end of the time they were lent for, fresh books being then brought. It is a matter for consideration whether, in the case of schools in Dunfermline, which are some distance from the library, a modification of this system might not still be valuable. But it is, of course, only a step in library development, and the Children's Department should not be delayed.

Here is an account of the work of such a department in America from the article above referred to :—

"My first introduction to a special library and reading-room for children was at Boston, Mass. One Sunday afternoon, under the friendly guidance of Mr. Frank Lloyd Garrison, son of the great Abolitionist, I visited the Public Free Library at Copley Square, then recently enriched by the mural paintings of Puvis de Chavannes. Excellent as the institution is in situation, construction, and efficiency of management, it necessarily differs little in its broader features from other great libraries. Many of the details of its workings, however, are well worth consideration and imitation. Of these, what struck me most were its system of distribution, its Children's Department, and its interesting department devoted to the collection and sifting of social and trade statistics. So far as I am aware, no European library can compare with it in these respects.

"With regard to distribution there are, besides the Central Library, ten branch libraries. There are in addition twenty-eight delivery stations, so that every reader, no matter where residing, is enabled to exchange his books easily without journeying to Copley Square.

"The present building dates only from 1888, when the foundation stone was laid. It was opened to the public in 1895. The annual income amounts to $260,529 or about £52,000, of which $13,670 or £2,734 is derived from invested trust funds, while $246,855 or £49,371 is provided by the city.

"The Children's Department is on the entresol, and consists of two spacious apartments, a Reading-room and a Reference Library. The first of these is lighted by large windows, and at night by electric light. The walls are adorned with solar prints representing architecture and statuary, and are hung with interesting reprints of the Declaration of Independence and other historical documents. All round are open bookcases. To right and left of the entrance are winding iron stairs, leading to a gallery supported by iron pillars and running all round the room. Between six and seven thousand volumes are shelved within easy reach. From these the children are free to choose at their pleasure without having to ask permission of the attendants, four of whom are in charge, one, at least, being always in the room. All routine, clerical work, mending, etc., for this department is done by the assistants. The books are mainly juvenile fiction of the better class, books of travel and adventure for the young, and in addition there are volumes of a more mature character, on popular science, biography, or history. There are six circular tables for readers. Round these, on the occasion of my visit, the youngsters swarmed like bees, some of the smallest being in the care of a mother, governess, or elder sister. They were all neatly dressed, and had that alert look so noticeable on the faces of American children. I saw not one heavy, stolid, or uninterested countenance. A small boy was so absorbed that I ventured to look over his shoulder. He was reading The Giant's Castle, and never glanced up; he did not even notice that anyone stood near him.

"Those who are old enough to possess the card granted to children of over twelve may take home two books at a time, on notifying an attendant. There is no rule to prevent both being story books. Any boy or girl, no matter how young, is allowed to read in the room, and to select books at will. The Reading-room is open from nine in the morning until nine in the evening on week days, and from two p.m. until ten on Sundays. The average daily circulation is about five hundred. This does not include the number circulated in the schools.

"In the Reference Library about five hundred volumes are contained. Here Howard Pyle's illustrations of the Life of Washington are hung. The pictures are not changed at regular intervals as in some children's libraries, but are in the nature of a permanent exhibit.

"So far, the Children's Room at Boston has not furnished a permanent record of a child's reading. A system, however, came into operation recently which will remedy this, taking fiction and non-fiction as the two classes. The fines imposed are the same for children and adults—that is to say, any person who detains a volume beyond the time for which it was lent is required to pay two cents for every day of such detention, and the same amount for every notice of detention sent by post. A notice is not sent until five days have elapsed. For every fortnight that the book is kept beyond the proper time an additional fine of twenty-five cents (one shilling) is imposed, and a special messenger is sent for the book. Books detained for more than three months are considered lost, and must be replaced. The fines that have accrued must likewise be paid, and no other book will be delivered to the delinquent until this is done. That books are rarely lost must be noted to the credit of the young readers. Very many reappear after a long absence, so that perhaps only one hundred volumes have to be replaced in the course of a year. Nine periodicals and magazines are taken in the Children's Room, of which only one, the Saint Nicholas circulates. The others comprise— Harper's Round Table, The Youth's Companion, Golden Days, Birds and All Nature, The Young Catholic, Journal de Jeunesse, Magasin lllustre, and Deutsche Jugendblatt.

"The choice of volumes for the Children's Library is in the hands of a special book committee, composed either of the trustees or outside persons of leisure connected unofficially with the Library. These latter are usually about twenty-two in number, and embrace sensible and cultured men and women, who undertake to read all new publications and report on them. Their verdict as to the suitability of a book is not considered final, but constitutes a strong plea in its favour. With the book committee rests the ultimate choice. The outside readers vary from year to year. One of them, Miss Katherine Conway, of The Tioston Pilot, a woman of great literary ability and v charm of character, told me she made a point of rejecting pessimistic books, however admirable in other respects. The sound sense of this will commend itself to all who recognise the melancholy natural to many children, which may be increased to morbidity by unsuitable fiction. Nearly every clever child is nervous and sensitive to a degree that its elders do not always realise, and if he or she is to grow up happy, healthy, and well-balanced, cheerful, wholesome, sane views of life must be inculcated, and all that is depressing and destructive of energy eliminated from its reading."

The introduction of a system under which lectures would be given at the Free Library will not, I hope, require much argument to commend it. It has already been in operation for some years at many centres in this country, and the results have been to stimulate interest in the books of the library and to encourage systematic reading. Most towns, we think, possess public-spirited citizens competent for this work, who are frequently glad, without fee or reward, to undertake it. The librarian, too, will generally be glad to avail himself of the educational possibilities of such a system. The prospect of such lectures should therefore be borne in mind in designing a library, and a special lecture-room provided if this is possible. "Where the provision of such a room is undesirable the lectures might be delivered in the Reference Department.

It is, perhaps, unnecessary to indicate the subjects which such lectures might deal with. They would be adapted with a view to meet the various needs and interests and tastes of different sections of the public. An admirable plan to follow would be that of the University Extension, which arranges for special short courses of lectures on educational, historical, literary, scientific, and economic subjects. Those attending the lectures should be encouraged to follow up the lectures with systematic home study, and the resources of the library, with its annotated bibliographies, would give them facilities and encouragement to do this. It would also be possible to organise voluntary examinations in the subjects of the lectures, with certificates of honour to those passing.

Before we pass from the question of the library, some comment should be made upon the extraordinary arrangement at present existing, under which all departments of the library, save the Newsrooms, are closed to the public every afternoon from two till six, and each Wednesday evening also, as well as for a fortnight or more in the summer for the holiday of the staff. This arrangement must necessarily be altered, and one's only wonder is that it should have been so long tolerated. The Lending and Reference Departments and the Newsrooms should be open daily until ten o'clock in the evening, and with an adequate staff this can be done without hardship to anyone. The authorities, too, should not longer delay opening the library on Sunday afternoons and evenings for reading and study.

One other point, now sadly neglected, is the hygienic conditions of the library. I have already touched upon the question of ventilation, and in another portion of this work I have dealt with the extraordinary extent of the evil of expectoration. This prevails in the Reading-room of the present library, despite a large poster forbidding it. The poster, indeed, might well be removed; it is useless and ugly. But the practice must be repressed, and entirely and immediately stamped out. An intelligent management will not spend many moments in discovering the way to do this.


 


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