TELLING 32,000 CHILDREN WHAT TO READ
WOMEN and THEIR WORK
Wonders Accomplished by Lillian Smith, B. A., Head of “The Boys’ and Girls’ House”—A Development of the Toronto Public Library
GERTRUDE E. S. PRINGLE
AN ARTISTIC old grey mansion with green shutters and ivy clinging to its walls bears the sign: "The Boys’ and Girls’ House.” Once the abode of an old Toronto family, this dignified-looking dwelling has been equipped as a public library for the exclusive use of boys and girls. The originator of this happy idea—its founder, fairy godmother and presiding genius—is Miss Lillian Smith, for the whole project is an expression of her own capable, sympathetic and progressive personality, which under the liberal administration of Dr. Geo.H. Locke, chief librarian for Toronto, is given full scope for its powers.
How much it means to children to have access to good books is a subject that Miss Smith can explain very convincingly, for she is a specialist in literature—more particularly literature for children—and directs the reading of 32,000 Toronto boys and girls. She has brought the children’s department of the Toronto Public Library to a state of vigorous efficiency, so that it is a radiating force of helpful activity.
Chesterton’s dictum regarding the qualifications of a great librarian reads: “A great librarian must have a clear head, a strong hand and above all a great heart. Such shall be greatest among librarians, and when I look into the future I am inclined to think that most of the men who achieve this greatness will be women.”
This is the way Miss Smith sums up her work:
“I think books give girls andboys a sense of value other than material, and that is going to be a joy to them all their lives. ‘Without vision the people perish’.” Then again: “Our aim is to make intelligent citizens of our girls and boys.” Miss Smith is slim and erect, of gentle, unassuming bearing, and possesses a low, soft voice and fine grey eyes—the eyes of the constructive thinker and practical idealist. When she speaks of her work her face becomes animated; her ardent interest *in it is very evident. She is a daughter of the late Dr. J. Vipond Smith, one of the most able preachersand administrators of the Methodist Church. Twelve years ago she graduated from the University of Toronto,
Victoria College being her alma mater. Then went on to Pittsburg to take the course, lasting one year, for children’s librarian in the Library Training School there. After completing this, she accepted a good post in the Children’s Department of the New York Public Library.
Here she remained a twelve-month, returning to her home town on being asked to take charge of the children’s work in the Toronto Public Library. The great development of this
branch in the ten years which have since elapsed has surprised and delighted those connected with library affairs, and kept pace with Toronto’s fast increasing population. Whereas a decade ago 50,000 children’s books were borrowed in a year, 1922 has witnessed 600,000 volumes in circulation.
Only One in the Empire
T TNIQUE as being the only one of the V-> kind in Canada, and indeed in the whole of the British Empire, is this “Boys’ and Girls’ House,” which is situated on lower St. George Street, and divided from
the main public library—truly a noble building—by a small open park where, in summer, readers sit under shade trees enjoying their books.
Immediately to the north lie fashion, wealth and learning; to the south and east is housed the city’s polyglot population that has increased almost beyond the power of imagination. To educate the children of foreign-born parents, as well as the native sons and daughters, in the ideals of Canadian citizenship, by exercising a directing and controlling interest over their reading during the formative period of their lives, is what “the Boys’ and Girls’ House,” and children’s rooms in branch libraries, are doing under Miss Smith’s direction.
On examining the register kept in the entrance hall of this old-fashioned mansion, one sees pages of straggling, childish writing denoting the names and places of origin of its members. As well as Canada ana the British Isles, practically every European country is represented, with many mentioned as being from Russia, Poland, Italy, Austria and Belgium.
People after all are quick to feel the motive that underlies action. And when an individual is found to be attuned to the higher things of life—to exhibit, as does Miss Smith, love of country and an intense desire that children shall have their chance-—such aims, entirely devoid of self-seeking, win the respect and sympathy of associates. Indeed the loyalty of the twenty-three librarians under Miss Smith is something to warm the heart and disprove the saying that women never stand by one other. Just to hear those girls speak of their young head of department is to realize what a grip she has on their affections. As one of them gratefully expressed it: “Miss Smitn
sees the great possibilities in her work and shares her thoughts with us.” Another one declared: “She is a gallant soul: she makes one understand what Ruskin had in mind when he wrote ‘The Wealth of a Nation Lies in the possession of the valut a b 1 e s by the vali a n t.’ A n d D r. George Locke, Chief Librarian of Toronto’s Public Libras, paid her this tribute: “Miss Smith is'an extraordinarily able girl ; she possesses keen literary judgment combined with S3’mp&thy, and has great administrative ability.”
The Appeal of Good Books
MISS SMITH allows none of her assistants to give out to a girl or boy any book that she herself has not first read. In this waj^ the 3-oung readers get the t3^pe of book suited both to their tastes and mental development. There is a bit of psychology involved also, for the librarian must first size up the boy or girl to learn the kind of book that will most appeal, and this requires judgment. One of the ideas followed is to get the youngsters to read books in sequences. Take for instance Kipling’s “Kim,” full of the color and romance of India, and a splendid story, but not one that appeals to every child. Some few might be ready for it, while others would be at longer or shorter intervals removed from the standard required in a child to appreciate it. So in order to prepare the way for real enjoyment of such a story other books are suggested that gradually lead up to it. Thus by easy stages and graduations each one arrives at the understanding necessary to enjoy the book in question, whether it be “Kim” or another story. This is only one instance that shows the amount of careful preparation and study involved on the part of Miss Smith and the assistants she has in training.
In giving them this training Miss Smith believes that authority should go with their responsibility, and so she encourages them to use their own initiative. They are all young, these children’s librarians, and being nearer to childhood than more mature persons they "have a greater understanding of the youthful mind. Every Wednesday morning they meet together and with Miss Smith’s help plan their programmes for the coming week—story hours and all.
The Spell of Fairy Tales
EVERY Saturday morning at ten o’clock the Story Hour is held, and long before the green door opens there is a clamoring throng waiting to get in. The hold this “Boys’ and Girls’ House” has on the youngsters is seen in the conduct of one small boy who arrived for the story at nine, and at four o’clock when his mother telephoned to enquire about him, was still there reading.
For the very little ones, from five to eight years old, there are fairy tales, nature stories and folk lore, the object being to give them the stories to which so many allusions are made in modern literature. The older children are told week by week stories in cyeles that take up classics like “The Idyll of the King,” “The Siege of Troy” and other epics of literature. These are followed by a series of stories dealing with Canadian history, which is really the backbone of the work, for here young citizens are being trained. This course is given by the children’s librarians throughout the city branches, and is found the best way to interest children in reading, especially in history and biography. Last year the total attendance of children at the story hour throughout the city was 46,500.
Clubs and Other Delights
THEN there are the clubs, formed at the request of children between eleven and fourteen who deem themselves too old to be with thei' younger brothers and sisters in the story hour. Some boys asked if they might have a Chess Club. They were boys with fine minds, mostly professors’ sons. “We felt,” said Miss Smith who largely eliminates the first personal pronoun, “that it was certainly an intellectual game and something to be encouraged, so we gave them permission to use a room one afternoon a week. The twelve members had to win their way in by passing test games. They elect their own president and secretary, and like the other clubs use the regular procedure, so that they thus get good training for after life.”
One room has been set apart for the exclusive use of these clubs. Then there is a Stamp Club, in which geography and history are unconsciously learned, and clubs devoted to the study of certain periods of particular authors, such as the Blue Bird Club, the Tusitala Club and others for the study of birds. In the Spring the Nature Study Club, armed with books, goes on tours of observation by trails that lead to the woods.
The number of interests covered by the “Boys’ and Girls’ House” are apparently limited only to the demands of the youthful members. So elastic is its policy that it always adapts itself to their desires. At Story Hour there is no marshalling of the little ones in orderly rows as in school; they sit or recline as they please. No printed rules appear on the walls, for there are no rules. Sometimes proud
young members will bring their parents to see over their “very own” house. They point to the lovely wall papers—bright orange in the Fairy Tale room—and to the wonderful books that have pictures of fairies and dragons and giants, and even more wonderful still, to a map of fairyland where can be seen all the famous places. Then the low shelves, the cosy open fires, the pictures on the walls and the entire air of harmony and refinement about the place make an unconscious appeal to every child.
“Just Nice Girls” Here
O INSPECT the house after school hours is to see eager children choosing books, or reading in the various rooms with quiet absorption. It surprises mothers and teachers of restless, unruly youngsters to see how quiet, gentle and good they are when in this ideal place of their own, where grown-ups don’t intrude—just nice girls who have kind faces and know the best books to read.
Another feature of this Well-devised house is the High School room where
BEST BOOKS FOR YOUNG FOLK
Miss Lillian Smith’s choice of the twenty best books for girls and boys:
Just So Stories—Rudyard Kipling. Fairy Tales—Hans Anderson.
The Arabian Nights—Olcott Edition. The Wonder Book—Hawthorne.
Alice in Wonderland—Lewis Carroll. The Jungle Book-—Rudyard Kipling. Hans Brinker—Dodge.
Robinson Crusoe—Daniel Defoe.
Home Book of Verse for Young Folks -—Robert Louis Stevenson.
Little Women—Louisa M. Alcott. Treasure Island—Robert Louis Stevenson
Wild Animals I Have Known—Ernest Thompson Seton.
Tales from Shakespeare—Charles Lambe.
The Boys’ King Arthur—Lanier edition The Prince and the Pauper—Mark Twain.
Tom Brown—Thomas Hughes.
The Story of Mankind—Hendrick Van Loon.
Pathfinders of the West—Agnes Laut.
students with works of reference at hand may write their essays and look up any special subject in quiet comfort.
One of the most usefùl features of the house is a special collection of volumes of permanent value affording guidance to adults in the choice of books for junior readers. This is one of Miss Smith’s many helpful ideas, and the room, a large upper chamber, is well patronised by parents, teachers and out-of-town librarians, while art students and illustrators find it repays them to study some of the finer editions illustrated by such artists as Arthur Rackham, Wyeth, and Boutet de Mouvel. The value of the collection is greatly increased by the librarian’s familiarity with the different books in it.
Best Books for Children
IT IS interesting to hear Miss Smith’s views on books for children, and how, with guidance, the little readers learn to like the very best.
“No,” she replied to a question, “we don’t stock the Elsie books, the Algers or the Optics. The first-mentioned series is stilted and prosy, and the others hold out the idea of boys earning material rewards by some lucky chance and not as a result of hard w’ork and perseverance.
“The books most popular with young readers,” she continued, “are the older ones, which have become classics, such as ‘Little Women,’‘Robinson Crusoe,’‘Water Babies,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare,’ ‘Swiss Family Robinson,’ ‘Treasure Island,’ ‘The Cruise of the Cachelot’ and ‘Coral Island.’ “Indeed we simply cannot supply the demand for these books. While we have twenty-five copies of ‘W'ater Babies’ we would buy only two of the latest adventure story. There is a great field for Canadian writers, to give us stories for girls and boys up to fifteen years of age, particularly those with an historic setting. Splendid stories of this type are ‘Merrylips’ by Dix—not a particularly new one —dealing with the Cavaliers and Roundheads in England, and ‘Master Skylark’ by John Bennett, telling of the time of Elizabeth in a most interesting way, and so popular that a new edition has just been issued.
“Of course Little Lord Fauntleroy and Sara Crewe have always been in demand, and Miss Saunders’ books, too, are well liked, as well as Seton’s and Roberts’— especially ‘Wild Animals’ and ‘Red Fox.’ However, boys and girls like practical hooks as well as stories of adventure and fairy tales. For instance one very fascinating and successful book we have for children is '‘Wilderness Honey’ by Frank Pollock. It tells of three young people who, with a capital of one thousand dollars made a living out of bee-keeping in the country.
“Among new Canadian writers is Mrs. Ethel Bennett, of Toronto, who wrote ‘Judy of York Hill,’ which has been reviewed in the United States as the best book of the season for girls from ten to fifteen. It has a splendid Canadian atmosphere. When our children like a book very much they want to own a copy themselves. That is another of the things we try to interest them in—the collecting of a library of their own. To do this they deny themselves of candy and picture shows and invest their savings in books.
“One girl of fifteen has by great selfdenial got together a fine little library, every book of which she has read with real enjoyment.
“Then sometimes with great pride, boys and girls will—with the assistance of little friends, bring their books here, thirty or so volumes, to display to the others. This encouragement to get together some good books is all the more necessary as few children now grow up with libraries at home because there is so little home life. Then in many cases their reading is not supervised at home—parents are too busy with their bridge and their golf perhaps, or else the lack of servants gives mothers less time for such things.’
A Career for Girls
WHAT do you think of library work for girls? How about openings in Canada?” Miss Smith was asked.
“I believe,” replied Miss Smith, “there are going to be plenty of openings in our Canadian libraries. It is getting to be highly specialized work. Personally I think girls and boys the most worthwhile branch of it. They do so respond to the very best if given the chance. If they haven’t learned to enjoy good books in childhood, they seldom appreciate them later.
“I would strongly advise our girls to train for this work in Canada,” continued Miss Smith. “We have in our Toronto library a three months’ course that is splendid for a short course, but later on we hope to make it a one-year course. This season more than half the students
are college graduates. Some come from subordinate posts in public libraries to get more training, and others are just starting out to learn the work. We have twenty-three girls doing children’s work in Toronto. In this one house we circulate 12,000 books a month.
“For this three-months’ course of training, matriculation standing or its equivalent is required, and also the passing of an entrance examination, except in the case of University graduates. In the library school the students learn cataloguing, circulation, selection and administration. Those who desire to specialize as children’s librarians must spend from one to two years in addition in doing practical library work, there learning such things as story telling, choosing of books, and methods of interesting children in the different kinds of books.”
A year under Miss Smith would be a liberal post-graduate course to any young girl anxious to become a children’s librarian. Among the present staff in the “Boys’ and Girls’ House” are some Bishop Strachan girls and University graduates.
Miss Smith is a thinker and a grower. She has by no means reached the maturity of her intellectual powers, nor has her work for children attained its ultimate development. In the ten years she has been in charge of the children’s department she has gained tremendously in mental breadth and poise. And because she has the rare and happy faculty of winning the whole-hearted co-operation and loyalty of her associates, she will go on still pursuing, still achieving, in the cause of childhood.
It will round out with completeness this description of one whose work is so much a part of herself that her hopes and aspirations are all bound up in it, to tell what Miss Bogle has to say of her. Miss Bogle is assistant-secretary of the American Library Association and Miss Smith’s former teacher in the Library Training School in Pittsburg.
“Miss Smith has the force and power which result from a firm belief in her work and thorough preparation for it. She knows books and childhood, and also the best methods and means of contact between the two. She has broad vision and unusual common sense. She has sentiment, but is free from sentimentality. Her ability to develop those who work under her direction is remarkable. She administers justly, wisely and with absolute unselfishness. She is so busy thinking about other people that she forgets herself.
“She was a leader in her class atschool, where her judgment, clear thinking and understandin? of people proved invaluable. It is hard to say whether her keen appreciation of literature, her love of humanity or her sense of humor is her greatest qualification for library work with children. She is one of the women who contributes richly to her profession. While her main interest is the children’s work, she never makes the mistake of thinking that is the end and aim of all, but realizes it is but a means to an end— that the child of to-day may become the reader of to-morrow.”