Bringing Books to Brains
There are Canadians who so realize the value of books that they turn lock-ups into libraries and barrooms into reading rooms
A. RAYMOND MULLENS
ON JUNE 20, over 2,000 librarians from every province of Canada, from the United States and from many European countries, are to assemble in convention at Toronto.
Tell that to the man in the street and his response probably will be ‘What of it?’ For, to many of us, a library is a decidedly colorless, not to say musty sort of place; a building to which repair long-haired cranks with stooping shoulders; a tendency to untidy beards and infrequently laundered linen; a repository of thousands of uninteresting volumes in faded bindings.
To some people, however, who have had the need of books brought home to them, a library isn’t this sort of thing at all. Instance the case of a man living in a sparsely settled district of Northern Ontario. W. 0. Carson,
Inspector of public libraries for Ontario, told me about him.
It seems that this individual had had the good fortune to dispose of a bear cub for the goodly sum of fifty dollars. This money he regarded as something in the nature of ‘velvet’ and he felt that he could afford himself a treat, being a man who was by nature a bookworm and feeling, acutely, the need of an easily available supply of books he wrote to Mr. Carson asking him if he would undertake to buy fifty dollars worth of the kind of books which would be likely to be of most interest to the people of the district in which he was living. The inspector bought the books for him and, in addition, sent him a traveling library of fifty volumes.
When the books arrived, arose the puzzling question of a place in which to house them. The settlement’s fathers scratched their heads; here was a real poser! For no one had a home large enough to constitute anything remotely resembling a library. At last one of them had an inspiration.
“What about the lock-up?” he asked. “We haven’t had a prisoner in the old shack for six years; why not do a little interior decorating and make the old one-horse jail a library and reading room?”
So the entire settlement went to work and turned the erstwhile penal eyesore into the nucleus of what has since become a bright, attractive library which is a real blessing to this otherwise isolated community.
Educating a Barroom
ANOTHER little hamlet wanted a library—wanted it badly. Their problem was solved for them in rather a curious way—by the coming into force of the Ontario Temperance Act. A woman who had rented a building for use as a barroom decided to give this saloon to the would-be library trustees. The conversion ‘of a drinking-place into a readingplace wasn’t the problem which might be imagined. The bar counter became the receiving desk; the shelves which formerly had housed spirits and wines made admirable shelves for books. Naturally this abrupt transformation caused a little confusion at first. Deluded by its exterior—which remained unaltered—a thirsty soul occasionally would wander in and ask hoarsely for Scotch. The librarian informed such a one that the best Scotch they had on tap was Sir Walter Scott and that if he desired a 'John Collins’, while she couldn’t supply that particular beverage, she warmly recommended Wilkie Collins as a substitute.
Why do people go to the length of utilizing jails and
barrooms for public, libraries when more suitable accommodations are not to be obtained? The reason is, obviously, that these people know what a library really is; what immense benefits it can confer on any community; why many and properly equipped libraries are essential to the proper development of a nation.
According to the Oxford Dictionary a library is a ‘collection of books or place in which it is kept; reading and writing room in house’. Which is about as informative as saÿîhg that a church is a building in which people gather to put money on the collection plate. The dictionary might have gone further and said that the future of a nation depends very largely upon the standard of its people’s intelligence and for this standard the public library is, to a considerable extent, responsible.
Consider, for a moment, the case of the foreigner—the Pole, the Lithuanian, for example, who comes to Canada. He lands at Quebec and promptly is transported to some corner of the vast' prairie country where he is badly
needed. He is needed so badly, of course, because we must populate and develop our waste places, and our need of the Pole or Lithuanian is his opportunity to earn a good living, acquire property in his own right and immensely to raise the social status of his children.
But if he is to be of the utmost value to the country in which he has made his home he must be, in the truest sense of the word, a Canadian citizen. That is, he must know something about the Canadian ideal and how it is working out, he must feel a proper pride in the traditions and history of his adopted country, he must acquire an acute sense of the dignity and responsibility which his citizenship entails.
And by furnishing him books about these things, written in the simplest, the most easily comprehended English, the libraries of Canada do help to make a loyal Canadian of now a what might otherwise be a bewildered, hampered foreigner whose code of ethics has been taught him by countries whose ideals and opportunities are not our own.
Then again, there are the dwellers in the hinterland who do most desperately need books to serve as companions. Any psychiatrist will tell you that the alarming proportion of lunacy cases which are reported from the lonely places of the Dominion is due, more than any other cause, to the habit of morbid introspection which lack of some form of companionship breeds. The various forms of library service which exist in the prairie provvinces bring the lonely homesteader this companionship in the guise of books which will divert his thoughts from his own immediate difficulties, problems and hardships, and make him free of the glorious company of men who have fought danger and hardship and won through to a glorious success.
There is the case, too, of the child possessed of some special gift which, properly developed, might be of immense benefit both to the individual hfcnself and the country in which he lives. Take, for example, the case of the boy with a special aptitude for understanding and interpreting figures. Given the proper books to read, this lad may become a highly successful accountant or auditor, a type of professional man not readily obtained.
All this, then, is a slight broadening of the dictionary definition of a library and enables us to understand why 2,000 people are gathering in Toronto to thresh out together the innumerable problems with which they find themselves confronted. Also, it prompts the enquiring mind to some sort of a survey of the work Canada has done and is doing in the library field.
Ontario Leads In Libraries
CURST of all, a few figures: ^ Canada has 610 public libraries, 505 of which are located in the province of Ontario. Canada has twentyfive per cent, more libraries than she had ten years ago. The patronage of public libraries has increased in Canada one hundred per cent, in the last seven years. Ten years ago, there were but ten trained librarians in the whole of the Dominion; to-day there are over 300.
Now for a resounding bang on the big bass drum: In
proportion to population, the Province of Ontario has the largest number of libraries in the world.
As a slight dampening of the reverberations of this drum we must note that of the 610
Continued on page 81
Continued from page 22
libraries in the Dominion only 105 are located outside the Province of Ontario. But this isn’t as depressing as it looks at first glance for if we note that British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, for example, have only fifty-four public libraries between them, we must realize that these are comparatively new provinces with enormous territories and small population. Each of these provinces has one library of outstanding merit in each of its cities and while the city libraries, proper, number not more than ten or twelve, the remaining libraries are performing excellent service in innumerable small communities. Upon this phase of library work in the Western provinces I shall have a little more to say later.
Manitoba has but six public libraries. Quebec is one of the older provinces and has comparatively few libraries but the province has a number of semi-public, many school, college and special libraries which contain book collections of immense value. Montreal has a magnificent new public library and the library at Westmount is noted throughout the Dominion for the excellence of its work.
Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have twentythree public libraries among them. This seems a very small number but the Maritimes have their own set and fixed reading habits which, include, among other things, a preference for the subscription library.
Dawson City, in the Yukon Territory has an up-to-date and widely used library.
Viewed broadly, Canada is doing excellently the work of providing instruction and entertainment for its citizens and this in the face of problems with which no other civilized country has been confronted.
Books For the Pioneers
TPHE most forbidding of these problems is, of course, that of getting books to those who live in places remote from any large centre. In the case of Ontario, an attempt is made to solve this by means of what are known as ‘traveling libraries’.
The term is a misleading one, conjuring up, as it does, a picture of some sort of conveyance on wheels which visits sparsely settled communities and distributes books Actually, a traveling library comes into being when two or three public-spirited members of a community get together and make application to the inspector of public libraries for one. The inspector selects some fifty books, guided by his intimate knowledge of the reading needs of small communities and by whatever suggestions the applicants may make to him, and these are sent on to the hamlet for which they are designed. The trustees of these libraries in miniature may keep the selection of books made for them either three or six months, and it frequently happens that an extension of the latter period is requested on the ground that the borrowers wish to re-read the book sent to them.
This method of supplying reading matter to pioneer or scattered settlements has inevitably many disadvantages. It is quite impossible to cater to the needs of anyone interested in a specialized course of reading. The very people who most need access to new books on special subjects—ministers, teachers and others of a studious turn of mind—can find but few volumes in the fifty consigned to them which treat of the subject in which they are particularly interested.
An interesting experiment now under way in Ontario is the operation by the province of two school-and-library cars. In addition to giving competent instruction to children whose facilities for acquiring knowledge at schools is limited, these cars carry a carefully selected library from which the inhabitants of
tiny communities far from any central library institution are permitted to borrow.
Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia have addressed this problem in a different manner. They have taken their cue from the Old Country and have worked out a variation of what is known in Great Britain as the ‘County Libraries’ idea. Using the legislative libraries as a base these Western provinces have made it possible for any man or woman interested in a special kind of reading to obtain the book most suited to their needs merely by making application in writing for it. More than that, the province pays the expense of postage one way. In addition, the provincial librarian will provide elaborate and careful outlines for special reading. It is only fair to state, in passing, that this type of service is available in Ontario where hundreds of pamphlets are printed dealing with reading on hundreds of various subjects. No provision is made, however, for providing the actual books.
The Only Boys’ And Girls’ Library in the World
''TPO RETURN to Ontario. Here library work has developed immeasurably beyond that of any other province. Ontario has not been without a public library for 127 years. It has a first-class law library, a public libraries branch in the provincial Department of Education, a system of paying grants to all public libraries — $80,000 a year — a library school, a library journal and book-selection guide, a traveling library system and a library association.
The City of Toronto has the finest public library in the Dominion. Its chieflibrarian, Dr. George H. Locke— president, this year, of the American Librarians’ Association—is a unique personality and those who have had the privilege of meeting him have no difficulty in understanding the reason for his library’s immense success. In the seventeen years in which he has held office, Dr. Locke has seen the number of books borrowed from his library yearly, grow from 400,000 to 2,500,000.
One of the most successful of his experiments is what is known as the‘Boys’and Girls’ House’. It is the first library in the world to be devoted exclusively to the needs of boys and girls and it is doing a wonderful work. When Lord Elgin, president of the Carnegie Library Trust of Great Britain, toured Canada recently he declared that this Boys’ and Girls’ House was the most impressive thing he had seen in the Dominion.
It came into being because Dr. Locke felt that the children of Canada ought to know that their country has a tradition, a history; that it was brought into being by fighting of the sternest sort—fighting with the forces of nature, with careless and indifferent politicians, with all manner of men, circumstances and conditions. And that it is a land worth fighting for to-day.
So he conceived the idea of holding story hours once or twice a week, in which he could tell the youngsters about these things. Let him tell us how the experiment worked out.
“I learned a lot in the process,” he told me. “Here, for example, is a thing which a lot of teachers and writers of juvenile literature don’t seem to realize: There is a great difference between children and adults when it comes to the matter of listening to stories. The grownup listener and reader is impatient; he wants you to come to the point of your story as fast as possible. Now, with children the very opposite is the case. A child, if once you succeed in interesting him, never wants a tale to come to an end; he wants you to tell him just what a certain great man did when he was a
boy; whether he was a good boy or a bad one; what kind of clothes be wore; what the house he lived in looked like, and so on. In other words the average boy and girl is a born antiquarian. Let me tell you a little anecdote to illustrate this!
Identifying Mr. Champlain
“T DEVOTED one of the story hours to telling nearly a hundred children the history of Champlain. I described his boyhood days in the seaport of Brouage on the Bay of Biscay; I pictured him running along the shore in his bare feet; I told the children about the capture of his city by Henry of Navarre and how it was that Champlain came to Canada.
“While I was talking I noticed one boy near me whose face wore a look of utter bewilderment, a bewilderment which seemed to grow with the progress of the story. Finally he interrupted me.
“ ‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said, ‘but is this guy you’re talking about the Champlain in our history book?’ He reeled off in one breathless sentence: ‘Champlaincame -to -Canada - 1603 - founded - Quebec - 1608 - surrendered - Quebec - 1629 -died - 1635.’”
“That’s the same identical gentleman, sonny,” I answered him.
“He breathed deeply and shook his head. ‘Hully, gee, what do you know about that?’
“Well, these story hours proved to me that a library could do a very important service to a nation by teaching children in a way that they didn’t seem to be taught in their schools. I felt, too, that if this work was to be done properly that the place for doing it wasn’t in a big library building, a place administered by middleaged people, however good their intentions might be, a place governed by all sorts of necessary rules and regulations. I decided that I wanted to get hold of a house. Why? Because the roughest kind of youngster feels that a nice, neat, tidy home is a place that demands good behaviour. It isn’t the sort of place to run about yelling and sky-larking. It’s a different sort of place to a public playground.
“And so when I learned that a fine house, right next door to our library building was on the market, I went to the council and told the members that I wanted to buy it. I explained what I wanted it for and they gave me the money without a murmur.”
This Boys’ and Girls’ House is a marvel of intelligent thought and organization.
In the first place it is run by young people, exclusively; young women not very many years removed from the age of the visitors to whom it caters. There aren’t any rujes and regulations, save that boys or girls who cometoitforthefirsttimeare asked their names, and who their parents j are.
The children are allowed to roam around the central rooms at will and pick out the books they think might prove interesting. There is a room for high school students which contains all kinds of text books written in simple, interesting, untechnical language. For the tots, there is a most engaging Fairy Tale Room where are to be found some hundreds of beautiful editions of both old and modern fairy tales. Also there is a most ingenious map of Fairydom indicating the abode, for example, of the Water Babies, the abiding place of Perseus and Andromeda and the Sherwood Forest where Robin Hood performed his justly celebrated exploits.
A novel departure, and one of great interest and importance, is the Sample Library. It was designed to give parents an idea of the sort of book which experience had proved would interest children of various ages. Such saccharine stuff as ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’ is conspicuous by its absence and splendid editions of Dickens and of such novels as Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ indicate the fact that the child of to-day demands sterner fare.
Small wonder that Lord Elgin expressed his intention of starting Boys’ and Girls’ Houses in Great Britain and that Miss Margaret Bondfield proclaimed the Toronto house the most truly spiritual thing she had seen in the Dominion.
The modern system of cataloging prevailing at the Toronto Public Library has rendered its magnificent collection of books accessible to the seeker after special information. One of the outgrowths of this particular branch of library technique has been the service given to inquirers after answers to puzzling questions. In one day, for instance, the library informed eager inquirers as to the crest and device of the Diwan Bahadu Sir T. Vizayaraghavachayra, the origin of the nickname ‘Jack Canuck’, and the ancestry, education and achievements of Admiral Field.
These questions are asked, usually, by people confronted with a troublesome piece of writing and the information given would, in most cases, be extremely difficult to obtain.
What the Readers Read
ASIDE from fiction, which, of course, is always avidly read, what kind of books are most frequently borrowed? By a large margin, the most popular type of non-fiction book deals with either travel or biography. It is easy to explain the reason for the popularity of the former. With advertisements galore in all kinds of newspapers and journals urging people to visit the glorious this-and-that, with highly colored and imaginatively painted posters depicting the wonder places of the
earth, with trips to Europe sold on the instalment plan, is it any wonder that people like to read about far-off places?
With regard to biography, rather a curious thing manifests itself. If you place on the shelves of a library a threevolume biography of some prominent person you will notice this: Volume one will be borrowed pretty generally, volume two will show a marked falling off, while volume three, in many instances, remains in its virgin state. Why? Well, the explanation seems to be this: Readers, on the whole, are interested in the story of a great man’s early struggles; they want to know how he ‘got there’. What he did once his success was won doesn’t seem to make much of an appeal. Which would seem to argue that ‘except ye become as a little child’ biography isn’t going to interest you very much. The kind of biography that is being written these days, by Philip Guedella, for example, recognizes this fact and in portraying a great man’s life tries to ‘tell a story’ about a human being. Lytton Strachey’s ‘Queen Victoria’ ran neck and neck in popularity with the best selling fiction for this reason.
As I said earlier in this article, the people of Canada are using public libraries to a steadily increasing extent, and this interest in books and the business of getting the right books to the right people will increase in proportion as the people of Canada cease to regard libraries as an expensive and superfluous luxury and come to see them as they really are— the workshops in which are stored the tools for the quickening and enlarging of a nation’s intellect; the very bone and sinew of a nation’s development.