worthy of the consideration of the universities, the colleges, and the high schools, of the country, to the end that students may appreciate and value the opportunities for service in a field of such possibilities as are presented to those who possess, and who have the power to communicate, their own love of literature to the boys and girls of their time.
READING CLUBS FOR OLDER BOYS AND GIRLS
Another method used successfully by a number of libraries to interest older boys and girls as they grow away from the story hour is that of the reading circle or reading club. Miss Caroline Hewins’ contribution to the Child Conference at Clark University in 1909 was an account of this work in the Hartford Public Library, of “book-talks at entirely informal meetings.” A sketch of Miss Hewins appears on page 23.
The boys and girls who are growing up in libraries where story-telling is a part of the weekly routine, at thirteen or fourteen are beginning to feel a little too old to listen to fairy tales or King Arthur legends, and look towards the unexplored delights of the grown-up shelves. Many librarians are taking advantage of this desire for new and interesting books to form boys’ and girls’ clubs with definite objects. One whom I know after a training with large numbers of children in a city branch library, became librarian in a manufacturing town where there were no boys’ clubs, and soon formed a Polar Club, for reading about Arctic exploration. She was fortunate in having an audience hall in the library building, and before the end of the winter the boys had engaged Fiala, the Antarctic explorer, to give a lecture, sold tickets and more than cleared expenses. This, be it remembered, is in a town with no regular theatre or amusement hall, and the librarian is young, enthusiastic, and of attractive personality. The branch libraries in Cleveland have been successful in their clubs, and in back numbers of the Library Journal and Public Libraries, you will find records of organizations of young folk who meet out of library hours, under parliamentary rules, for more or less definite courses of reading. For the reason that the experiments are in print and easily accessible, I shall merely give you a record of my own book-talks at entirely informal meetings.
Long ago, before there were library schools, Harlan H. Ballard, now librarian of the Pittsfield Athenaeum, used St. Nicholas as the organ of the Agassiz Association, which had been in existence for several years with about a hundred members in Berkshire County. The Association grew and soon had chapters all over the world. In the number of St. Nicholas for December, 1881, I find the record of ours, and the name of the first secretary, then a boy of ten or twelve years, now a prominent citizen, a member of the Board of Park Commissioners and School Visitors. We used to go out of doors looking for birds and insects through the spring and fall, and meet in the library in winter for reading from authors like John Burroughs, Dr. C. C. Abbott and Frank Buckland, or the lives of Thomas Edward, Robert Dick, Agassiz and other naturalists, or sometimes a story from a grown-up magazine like one of Annie Trumbull Slosson’s or an account of real pets like Frank Bolles’s owls. The children in “A. A. Chapter B” all had good homes, good vocabularies and reading fathers and mothers, and listened with interest to books that are far in advance of the children of their age who began to come to the library after it was made public. The chapter lived long enough to admit the children of at least one of its original members, and only died because Saturday morning, the only morning in the week when children are free, had important business engagements for the librarian, who feels that “Nature-study,” too, plays an important part in schools now-a-days, and that in the language of “My Double”, “there has been so much said, and on the whole so well said,” that there is less need than there used to be of such a club, although it is a great deprivation not to have the long country walks and the Saturday readings and talks with the children. A librarian or a settlement worker who sees only children from non-English speaking homes is in danger of forgetting that there are others who can use books in unsimplified form.
This is the only club connected with the library which had a formal organization, but in giving a talk one day several years ago to the upper grades of a school, I asked how many boys and girls were going to stay in town through the summer, and invited all who were to come to the library one afternoon a week for a book-talk. The next year I sent the same invitation to several schools, and gave in both summers running comments and reading of attractive passages from books on Indians, animals, the North Pole, adventures, machines, books of poetry, stories about pictures and some out-of-the-way story books, with a tableful of others that there was not time to read from. The titles of the books are in Public Libraries, June, 1900, and are largely from the grown-up shelves. This was five or six years before our boys’ and girls’ room was opened and the children had free access to all their own books.
The third year the programme was a little varied. Some of the subjects were “Books that tell how to do things,” “A great author and his friends (Sir Walter Scott),” “Another great author and his short stories (Washington Irving).” I have always made a great deal of the friendship between these two authors, and as most of our children are Jewish, I have often told the story and shown the portrait of Rebecca Gratz, the Philadelphia Jewess, who was too true to her religion to marry a Christian, and whose story as told by Irving, whose promised wife had been her friend, gave Scott his noble ideal of the character of Rebecca.
One year we had an afternoon about knights and tournaments, and by an easy transition, the subject for the next week was “What happened to a man who read too much about knights,” giving an opportunity for an introduction to Don Quixote. After that two dream-stories opened the way to a fine illustrated edition of the Pilgrim’s Progress, and stories from Dante.
The next year, I tried stories of English history, in nine or ten different periods, reading from one book every week and suggesting others. After the opening of the boys’ and girls’ room, the book-talks for one or two summers for seventh and eighth grade pupils, were upon some of the pictures in the room: Windsor Castle, Kenilworth, Heidelberg Castle, the Alhambra, the Canterbury Pilgrims and some Shakespeare stories. Afterwards, “What you can get out of a Henty book” gave a chance for interesting picture bulletins, and the use of other books referring to the times of “Beric the Briton,” “The Boy Knight,” “Knights of the White Cross,” “Bonnie Prince Charlie,”
“In the Reign of Terror.” Last year and this I have been reading Scott and Dickens aloud.
We have some of the Detroit colored photographs of places of historic interest, Windsor Castle for which I used Lydia Maria Child’s story of “The Royal Rosebud,” although most of the little princess’s early life was passed in sanctuary at Westminster. On the afternoon when Kenilworth was the subject, I read all of Scott’s novel that we had time for. Once on the Alhambra day, we have had Irving’s story of the Arabian astrologer, and again a description of the palace and the Generalife who had just come from Spain. There was little in print about Heidelberg that I could use, and I had to write out the whole story of the Winter King and his Queen, James First’s daughter Elizabeth, ancestress of the present king of England and mother of a large family.
Two years ago, in the interim between one children’s librarian who was married in June and her successor who could not come till September, I spent most of the summer in the boys’ and girls’ room, and learned two things. Some of the children thought that they had read all the books on the shelves, and were asking for grown-up cards. They were kept in the room by transferring some duplicate copies of novels best worth reading from the main library and putting red stars on the back and the book-card. Then I was able to talk with girls who had read all of Laura Richards’s Hildegarde books, but had never thought of looking up one of the poems or stories that she loved, or one of the pictures in her room. I have sometimes read the description of the room to a class in a schoolroom, and put on the blackboard all the names of places, persons, books and poems in it. One year I invited girls to form a Hildegarde Club for reading these very things, and in writing to Mrs. Richards on another subject, mentioned it. She wrote me an answer that I have had framed for the girls to see. The Club lived for a few months and used to meet on Saturday afternoons for reading “The Days of Bruce,” but at the Christmas holidays the girls went into the department stores for a few weeks and forgot to come back. However, I am very happy to tell the story of another Hildegarde Club that is still flourishing. The teacher of a ninth grade class loves books, and was quick to seize the hint of such a club, which she organized from the girls in her room, and asked permission to bring to my office for its weekly meetings. She is keeping them up to their work because she sees them every day, and they are interested and learning how much they can find in a book besides the story. Besides this, they are observant and appreciative of whatever they see on the walls of my room. The girls to whom I gave a general invitation by means of a newspaper article were not from the same school and did not all know each other. It is better in organizing a club to have some common ground of interest and begin with a small number. It cannot always be done in a city in or through the library, except indirectly, by means of a Settlement or other club. One that I know does very good work in its meetings with the Settlement headworker and has a small collection of books and pictures from the main library for six months, and a more elementary bookshelf for a younger club with whom one of the members is reading the same subject.
A librarian or library assistant can do some of her best work in a Settlement club either in connection with the Settlement library or independently. Readings from Dickens can be illustrated by scenes acted in pantomime, with very simple properties. Indeed, we had not even a curtain when Miss La Creevy painted Kate’s miniature, when the Savage and the Maiden danced their inimitable dance, when Mrs. Kenwigs and Morleena held a reception for Mrs. Crummles, the Phenomenon and the ladies of their company, when after they had recited from their star parts, Morleena had the soles of her shoes chalked and danced her fancy dance, and Henrietta Petowker took down her back hair and repeated “The Blooddrinker’s Burial.” The old man looked over the wall, too, and threw garden vegetables and languishing glances at Mrs. Nickleby who encouraged his advances. There was no time for the girls to learn the parts in the busy, crowded, late-open holiday evenings of department stores, but they all entered into the pantomime and interpreted the reading with spirit, as they did at another time in some of the Shakespeare scenes, Rosalind, Celia and Touchstone, Hamlet and Ophelia, Bottom and Titania, with attendant fairies, and Shylock and Portia. The Dickens scenes were repeated for a younger club, just trying its dramatic wings in charades, and when May-time came these younger girls of twelve to fifteen gave a very successful representation of an old English May-day with Robin Hood and his merry band, a Jester, a Dragon, a Hobby-horse and Jack in the Green, Maid Marian and the Lord and Lady of the May on the library green.
The opportunity of a library in a small town, where there is more leisure than in a city, is in the formation of young people’s clubs. One day, a year or two ago, I visited three libraries on the Sound shore in Connecticut. In one, the librarian had made her basement useful out of library hours by organizing a class of chair-caning for boys who were beginning to hang around the streets, and were in danger of being compelled to learn the art in the Reform School if they did not acquire it as a means of keeping their hands from mischief at home. In the next town, the librarian mounted and identified all the moths and butterflies that the children brought to her and gave them insect books. In the library beyond, the children were formed into a branch of the Flower Mission in the nearest city. The club need not always be for reading, but must depend on the resources or interests of the boys and girls. There is no need of debating clubs in our library, for the city is full of them, but they may be the very best thing that the librarian in the next town can form.
A reading club must not necessarily be a club for the study or enjoyment of stories, history or poetry. Under the guidance of the kind of librarian who aims far above her audience, it may turn into something like Mr. Wopsle’s quarterly examinations of his great aunt’s school, “when what he did,” says Pip, “was to turn up his cuffs, stick up his hair and give us Mark Antony’s oration over the body of Caesar. This was always followed by Collins’s Ode on the Passions, wherein I particularly venerated Mr. Wopsle as Revenge, throwing his bloodstained sword in thunder down, and taking the war-renouncing trumpet with a withering look.” There may be a club for making things out of the Beard books, for the study of sleight-of- hand, for exchanging postcards with children in other countries and reading about the places on them. It may make historical pilgrimages to places of interest in the town or may collect stones and clay nodules, and read about them. The important thing is to find children of nearly the same age and neighborhood with interests in common, and let them decide whom they shall ask to join the club after it is formed. Better yet if they ask for the club in the first place. One not very long-lived Settlement club which I knew was of boys who wished to read and act Shakespeare, but a very few evenings convinced them that as they could not even read the lines without stumbling, they were not on the road to the actors’ Temple of Fame. They were boys who had left school at fourteen in the lower grades, except one, who had taken his High School examinations and is now at the head of a department in a large department store and a prominent member of a political study club. The others, who had expected to play prominent Shakespearean parts with little or no work, were easily discouraged, dropped off and were seen no more. The reading of very simple plays at first is a good stepping-stone to a study of Shakespeare later, but the plays must be interesting enough to hold the attention of boys who do not read fluently.
LIBRARY CLUBS FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
The usefulness of the reading club as an opportunity of broadening the interests of the child is emphasized in the following paper, printed in the Library Journal, May, 1911, which gives an account of the organization of clubs under the direction of a supervisor in the Cleveland Public Library. Marie Hammond Milliken was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., was graduated from Wellesley College in 1905 and from the Training School for Children’s Librarians in 1907; was children’s librarian in the Cleveland Public Library from 1907 to 1910; Supervisor of reading clubs from 1910 to 1912, and since that time has been a branch librarian.
The 13-year-old president of one of the Cleveland library clubs said recently, in explaining the purpose of the club to a new member, “The idea of this club is to give you what you couldn’t get anywhere else.” This is a rather ambitious program. I should be slow to say that any club I have known has succeeded in doing that for its members. Considering the character of the communities in which the public library is generally placed, particularly the branches of a large library system, I am inclined to think, however, that clubs organized and conducted by the library offer to the children some things they are, at least, not likely to get anywhere else–and to the library another means of strengthening its effectiveness as an educational and social center in the community.
In speaking of library clubs, I have in mind the organized, self-governing club, with a small and definite membership, as distinguished from the reading circle. Definite organization means a constitution, officers, elections, parliamentary procedure –all the form and ceremonial so attractive to children of the club age. From the first meeting, when the constitution of the club comes up for discussion, the organization begins to develop the child’s sense of responsibility. A simple form of parliamentary procedure will not only prove conducive to orderly and business like meetings, but, especially with young or immature children, delight in its formalities will help to hold the club together while interest in other phases of the club work is being developed.
The chief advantage of the self-government of the club is as a first lesson (frequently) in the principles of popular government. In the club the too-assertive child learns wholesome respect for the will of the majority, while his more retiring brother discovers that one man’s vote is as good as another’s. When one has seen a club of ambitious lads who, when they first organized, cared only for success, reject a boy who is a good debater and athlete on the ground that in another club he had shown that “he was a sorehead and couldn’t seem to understand that the majority’s got to rule,” one is tempted to feel that organization can do so much for the children that an organized library club justifies itself on that score alone.
Club work is a very effective means of extending the active educational work of the library. In the clubs conducted by the Cleveland Public Library, the plan has been to encourage the children themselves to make suggestions for the club work. Then a tentative program is made out, based on some general interest shown in the suggestions made by the club. As far as possible, the program is planned with the idea of stimulating broad, as well as careful and intelligent reading. The program is, of course, subject to changes which may suggest themselves to the club or to its leader. Travel in foreign lands, the study of the lives of great women, nature study, the reading and discussion of Shakespeare’s plays, in the girls’ clubs, and, in the clubs for boys, debating and reporting on current events, have been the subjects most successfully worked out for club consideration, probably on account of the variety of interest which they present. Travel means not only the manners and customs side of the country–it means the art, the literature, the history, the legend; biography, not simply the life of the individual studied, but the period and country that produced it. The subjects discussed in the debating clubs are almost always of the boys’ choosing, and represent a broad field of interest, economic, social, moral and political. They range from “Resolved, That Washington did more than Lincoln for his country,” “That civilization owes more to the railroad than the steamboat,” “That the fireman is braver than the policeman,” in the clubs of boys from the sixth and seventh grades, to the discussion of municipal ownership, tariff commission, establishment of a central bank, and commission government for cities, in clubs composed of high school boys. Aside from what practice in the form of debating means to the boys in developing ability to think clearly and to speak to the point, discussion of vital questions of national and municipal interest encourages the boy to turn to more trustworthy sources of information than the daily press. He learns to refer to books and the better sort of periodicals for his authority, and, gradually, through reading and discussion, begins to substitute convictions for inherited prejudice or indifference.
The club’s greatest usefulness lies in the opportunity it presents of broadening the interests of the child, of opening to him, through books and discussion, new fields of thought and pleasure. Compared with this, information acquired and number of books read are comparatively unimportant. The smallness of the group with which he has to deal and the children’s invariable response to his special interest in them create an unusual opportunity for the club leader. In the informal discussions in the club he may pass on to the children something of his own interests, and direct theirs into channels which would probably never be opened to them otherwise. From our experience in one of the branches of the Cleveland Public Library, where club work has presented great difficulties, I know that, given a leader who understands, girls whose standard of excellence has been met by boarding- school stories, can be interested in studying and reading in their club the plays of Shakespeare or in listening to extracts from Vasari’s “Lives of the painters” or Ruskin’s “Stories of Venice.” Beyond his opportunity to interest the club in better reading, the leader may help the children in a general way, by unconsciously presenting to them his standards of thought and conduct. Through him they may become aware of finer ideals of courtesy, bravery and honesty.
Not the least important contribution of club work to the library is the direction of the reading of boys and girls of the intermediate age–always such a difficult problem. Most of the children of the age when clubs begin to appeal to them strongly –from 12 years on–have reached a stage of mental development at which they should be reading, under direction, books from the adult as well as the juvenile collection. In the Cleveland Public Library clubs books from the adult collection are used whenever possible in connection with the club programs, and the leaders are encouraged to recommend books from that collection for the personal reading of the children. The result is that the children are gradually made acquainted with the adult department, and come to feel as much at home there as in the children’s room.
The club very seldom fails to establish a feeling of friendliness and personal interest in the library among its members. It has proved itself, in this way, a very decided aid in reducing the librarian’s “police duty.” Moreover, the club is a privilege, and as such not to be enjoyed by those who habitually break the law, so that what it fails to accomplish in one way may be brought about in another.
As this paper is based on experience gained in the Cleveland Public Library, it would not be complete without mention of one important phase of the club work there.
To a very great extent the club work in the Cleveland Public Library owes its growth in size and efficiency to the time and interest given to it by the volunteer club leaders, of whom, during the year 1910, there were 60. Looking over the work of the boys’ clubs for the year, it is interesting to note the influence of the leader’s interests upon the boys. All but one of the boys’ clubs whose leaders are attorneys devoted their club meetings to debating, mock trials and parliamentary drill. Among the clubs under the leadership of students in Western Reserve University (and these represent more than half of the total number of boys’ clubs) the predominant interest is in the discussion of current events, the subjects for occasional debates being suggested by these discussions. In two or three clubs too young for such discussion, the leaders, who were especially interested in civics, were able to interest the boys in the study of the work of the various departments of our city government. In another instance a leader, a business man, deeply interested in the history of Cleveland and its industries has succeeded in holding the interest of his club boys in this subject for three months, though these were boys whose indifference to anything but “Wild West” stories was proverbial in the branch library.
Clubs for boys and girls in the Cleveland Public Library are under the direction of a club supervisor, who organizes the clubs, secures the services of the volunteer leaders, and helps them in preparing programs for the clubs. The work has been conducted in this way for three years, and has become a vital part of the work of the library as a whole.
LIBRARY READING CLUBS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
The successful development of reading clubs by the New York Public Library is evidenced by the fact that at the time the following paper was written, in 1912, there were reported twenty-five boys’ clubs and seventeen girls’ clubs. The paper is by Anna C. Tyler, and was read before the New York meeting of school librarians in Brooklyn, N. Y., May 25, 1912.
Anna Cogswell Tyler was born in Detroit, Michigan, and was graduated from the Hartford, Conn., High School in 1880. She attended Mrs. Julie Goddard Piatt’s boarding school in Utica, New York, from 1880 to 1882, and Mademoiselle Taveney’s school for girls at Neuillysur- Seine near Paris from 1883 to 1885. She was graduated from the Pratt Institute Library School, taking the two-year course, 1904-1906. She was an assistant in the Pratt Institute Free Library from 1906 to 1908. In 1908 she was made assistant in charge of story-telling and library reading-clubs in the New York Public Library.
The library reading clubs have sprung into being as a natural result of the library story hour, and for two very potent reasons –the boys and girls of from twelve to fifteen years old, however much they enjoy listening to a good story, are extremely afraid of being classed as children. Therefore when such a boy or girl comes to the branch library which he uses and sees a very attractive little notice reading “Story hour this afternoon at four o’clock for the older children” he shakes his head and goes his way saying, “Oh, they don’t mean me, that’s for the kids!” But when he sees a notice reading “The Harlem Boys’ Club” meets such a day and hour his attention is immediately arrested, and he asks, “What do you have to do to join this club?”
This is the first reason for the rapid growth of these library reading clubs, the magic contained in merely the sight or sound of the word “club”–the spur it gives to the imagination of even the apparently unimaginative child, and the stigma it removes from the mind of the adolescent boy or girl of being considered a child. By conferring upon him the dignity of membership in a club we can make it possible for him to enjoy to the extent of his capacity the pleasure the majority of children so delight in–the listening to a good story well told or well read. His mind is at peace, his dignity unquestioned, for, since no stripling likes to be taunted with his green years, his being a member of such a club or league has forever precluded such a possibility.
The matter of joining these clubs is made as simple as possible, and the great democracy of the public library spirit is kept uppermost in the minds of librarians who have charge of this work, and by them instilled into the minds of the children as rapidly as possible. Any boy or girl is welcome to the club who wishes to come, provided he or she is of the right age or grade to enjoy the stories, reading, or study that is interesting the others. Boys and girls who are doubtful are invited to come and see what the club is as often as they will, until they have quite made up their minds whether or not it is something they want. The only thing required of them is to follow the one general rule underlying all the clubs of the library–the Golden Rule, that their behavior shall in no way interfere with the pleasure or rights of the other members. Some of them stay only a short time, but on the other hand we have many children who were charter members when the clubs were formed four years ago, and they have attended the meetings regularly, though they have long since passed from the grammar schools and have reached the heights of the third year in high school.
The difficulty of finding stories which will interest in the same degree mixed groups of older children is the second reason for the growth and popularity of the library reading clubs. Some of the great stories of the world, like “The Niebelungenlied,” “The Arthurian cycle,” Beowulf, and a few others may be used, or the life of a great man or woman may be told, and listened to with interest, provided there is plenty of romance in the life, and the book which contains the story is attractive in appearance and tempts one to read it at first glance. One can also find good material for club programs in the romance of some period in the history of a country not our own. The difficulty of choosing story literature suitable and interesting for mixed groups of boys and girls and the difference in their reading tastes make the segregation of the library reading clubs a wise method. The boy during these years is eager to acquire information on all subjects–one can appeal to his love of adventure, of heroes, and mystery. The girl is full of romance–poetry and drama make their appeal.
The difficulty of maintaining and controlling successful library reading clubs is frequently lost sight of because of the ease with which they can be formed. Our experience has taught us that in planning the library activities of the New York Public Library the reading clubs must come last–they must only be established when they can take their place as one of the regular functions of the library. The librarian who is to be club leader must be able to interest, influence and control the club members as well as to tell a story.
The club season lasts from the first of October to the end of May, and at present we have twenty-five boys’ clubs and seventeen girls’ clubs reported. Some of these are formal in organization with regularly appointed officers chosen, of course, by the boys and girls themselves. These officers hold their office for periods of varying length, some clubs electing new officers each month, others at the beginning of each club season. Some of the clubs are clubs only in name–entirely informal, but meeting regularly once or twice or oftener each month throughout the season to listen to the stories. Many of the clubs are entirely selfgoverning and they also arrange their own programs. The librarian who is the club leader is present as a member, but takes no active part in the entertainment of the club unless invited to do so.
And now just for a moment let us consider the kind of literature we are trying to interest the youngsters in. Being a radical it pleased me very much recently to come across the following passage in an interesting new book by Miss Rosalie V. Halsey, entitled “Forgotten books of the American nursery.” Miss Halsey says: “Reading aloud was both a pastime and an education to families in those early days of the Republic. Although Mrs. Quincy made every effort to procure Miss Edgeworth’s stories for her family, because, in her opinion, they were better for reading aloud than were the works of Hannah More, Mrs. Trimmer and Mrs. Chapone, she chose extracts from Shakespeare, Milton, Addison, and Goldsmith. Indeed, if it were possible to ask our great-grandparents what books they remembered reading in their childhood, I think we should find that beyond somewhat hazy recollections of Miss Edgeworth’s books and Berquin’s ‘The looking glass for the mind’ they would either mention ‘Robinson Crusoe,’ Newberry’s ‘Tales of Giles Gingerbread,’ ‘Little King Pippin,’ and ‘Goody Two-shoes’ (written fifty years before their own childhood), or remember only the classic tales and sketches read to them by their parents.”
Now it seems to me that our great-grandparents were very lucky to have been so delightfully introduced to the great things in literature, and in these days when the art of reading aloud is almost a lost art how can we expect the modern child to turn with a natural appreciation to the best in literature when he is almost submerged by the mediocre and vulgar inside and outside the home, his appreciation undeveloped, not old enough in years or intelligence to comprehend the beauty we so delight in. We are disappointed when he does not respond, and wonder why. Is it not the result of forcing him to use these things before he is ready, and thus only fostering his distaste?
Believing this to be so, I have gone to work to try to induce the boys and girls to read more widely, and cultivate appreciation, by using this old-fashioned method of reading aloud or telling a part of the story and reading here and there bits of the text, thus letting the author tell his own story, and as far as we have been able we have tried to give the children the KIND of story they wanted–WHEN they wanted it–but in the best form in which it could be found. For instance Poe’s “The purloined letter” when a detective story is asked for, followed by a story from Stevenson’s “New Arabian nights” or “Island nights’ entertainments.”
In eleven of the boys’ clubs we have been using this year special collections of duplicate books, on topics suggested by the boys themselves. These collections have been kept together for from four to six weeks, and the stories that have been told or read from these books are mentioned in the notice, with a list of all the books in the collection and posted near where the books are shelved. The topics suggested by the boys are as follows: railroad stories; ghost stories; humorous stories; adventure on land; heroes; adventure on sea; history stories, this last topic including Italy, France, England, Scotland, Germany, Canada, and “The winning of the West” in American history, and each group decided on which country they would read about.
On the lower West side, where the Irish-Americans live in large numbers, where street fights and fires contribute a constant source of excitement, there is a library club of girls who have been meeting twice a month for two years. Last year we studied Joan of Arc, completing our study by reading Percy Mackaye’s play. This year, not feeling satisfied that I was on the right path, I called a meeting to make sure. After trying in vain to get an expression of opinion I finally asked the direct question, “What kind of books do you really LIKE to read?” and for a moment I waited in suspense, fearing someone would answer to please me by mentioning some classic. But to my great relief one girl replied at last timidly, but decidedly, that she liked “Huckleberry Finn.” This gave another the courage to add that she had enjoyed the chapter on whitewashing the fence in “Tom Sawyer.” My clue had been found–a reading club of adventure was formed, and though we began with the “Prisoner of Zenda” we have wandered with “Odysseus,” and sighed over the sacrifice of “Alcestis,” and thrilled over the winning of “Atalanta” this winter.
A girls’ club on the lower East side have been reading the old English comedies–“She stoops to conquer,” “The rivals,” “Lady Teazle”; then there is a flourishing Shakespeare club, which to honor the Dickens centenary this year, voted to make the study of the great writer a part of this year’s program. This club meets once a week, and at one meeting the outline of one of the great tales was told by the librarian. This was followed by the girls reading one or more of the most famous chapters or dialogues. At the alternate meetings the girls read plays, varying the program by choosing first a Shakespeare drama and then a modern play. Each act is cast separately, so that all the girls may have a chance to take part, and in this way we read “Twelfth night,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The taming of the Shrew,” “Macbeth,” “The bluebird,” “The scarcecrow,” and “Cyrano de Bergerac.”
Away up in the Bronx there is a “Cranford Club,” so named by the girls because of their interest in the story to which they were introduced four years ago. This club is really a study club and contains a good proportion of its original members. They meet twice a month, and a leader is appointed for each meeting, who chooses her committee to report on the topic for the evening’s study. The topic is sub-divided and each girl does her part in looking up the bit assigned to her. In this way they have studied the English poets Tennyson and Milton, although after spending an evening on Comus the club voted unanimously to change to Dickens. They have also studied Bryant, Longfellow, Lowell and Whittier, and the girls were sufficiently familiar with these poems to recite many from each poet. Then the lives of three English queens were studied–“Bloody Mary,” “Queen Elizabeth,” and “Mary, Queen of Scots”; this year the Norse myths and stories from the Wagner operas. The librarian’s part is to suggest the best books in which to find what they want, to get any book they may need, sometimes suggest a line of subjects to choose from, etc, but the work of preparing the material is done entirely by the girls. When a book is being read and discussed, they sit around a table and read in turn the bits that have been selected for them by the librarian, who tells them the thread of the story between selected bits read by the girls. Thus they have read “Cranford,” “Pride and prejudice,” “Old curiosity shop,” “David Copperfield,” and “Twelfth night.” The teacher of English where most of these girls attend school was recently an interested visitor at the club, and she says she has noticed for a long time a difference in the school work done by these girls, from a broader viewpoint and outside atmosphere they brought to the class by their intelligent comments and criticisms, showing that they were reading outside and beyond the other girls of the class. She noticed also a difference in their composition work. One of the girls from that class was sent by this teacher to visit the library for the first time and when asked what she liked to read replied, “Wooed and married” and “How he won her” were nice books. The book given her instead of her favorites was Mary Johnston’s “To have and to hold.” It was read and enjoyed. Then she took Howells’ “The lady of the Aroostook,” and after the outline of the story had been told her seemed to read it with real pleasure. Next Owen Wister’s “Virginian” was given her, but this she did not seem to care for. As a result of this reading her taste in a better kind of reading seems to have been pretty well established, as her librarian assures me that she has continued her reading along the line indicated by the above titles. The Belmont Club, the best boys’ club for debating in the school, have challenged the “Cranford Club” to meet them in a debate on “Woman suffrage,” to be held in the library at an early date. The girls have accepted the challenge, and the fact that the boys question their ability to equal them is sufficient spur to make them work every moment they can spare from their school duties to prepare for this important event. Added to this is the fact that every one of them is an ardent “suffragette.”
The need of social centers in the schools and libraries is becoming insistent. The increasing demand on the part of children for clubs of all kinds shows plainly their desire for some place other than the street, where they can be amused and occupied in the natural desire for self-development and expression. Early last fall in one of the libraries the librarian met by appointment a group of girls from eleven to fourteen years old. These girls were wayward and troublesome, had formed a “gang” which was more difficult to control than the usual gang of boys. There was a room in her library quite apart from the rest of the building where they could meet as a club if it should prove desirable. “What would you like to do?” she asked. “Dance!” was the reply. “Well, then, dance, and show me what dances you like,” replied the librarian, and immediately the girls formed for a figure of a folk-dance, and each girl humming softly the tune they danced it through. “The Girl Scouts” Club was formed, and in a day or two the secretary of the club submitted the following program for the librarian’s approval: Program. 1. Chapter from the life of Louisa M. Alcott; 2. Recitations; 3. Games, Flinch; 4 One folk dance. From this beginning six other clubs have been established: two for the older girls, two for the boys, one for the little girls from eight to eleven years old, and one for a group of troublesome young men from sixteen to twenty years old. So keen has been the interest of these young people in these clubs that the “gang” spirit has long since disappeared, and at the end of the club season an open meeting was held, a program arranged in which members from each club took part, and the ushers and guards of honor were some of those same troublesome young men. There was no place in this community where the young people could meet for any kind of simple amusement, the only “social centers” being the cheap vaudeville theater, the usual moving picture show and the streets, until the little branch of the public library opened its doors, and so popular has the library become that 960 children have taken cards at the library since the first of September and are borrowing books on these. Besides the large number of card holders there is a still larger number of children who do all their reading and studying at the library. Although they may not know the old English verse from which the lines are taken they feel them:
“Where I maie read all at my ease, Both of the newe and olde, For a jollie goode booke whereon to looke Is better to me than gold.”
The outline I have given will give you some idea of how we are developing the story hour and reading clubs in the New York Public Library. This work is made possible by the splendid cooperation on the part of the branch librarians and their assistants, without whom it would be impossible to carry on a work of such proportions.
The history of the home library movement in its beginnings is recorded in a paper read before the Congress of Charities held in Chicago, June 15, 1893, by Mr. Charles W. Birtwell, general secretary of the Boston Children’s Aid Society, who claims for it a “natural and simple origin,” a method of multiplying the personal work which he was doing among the poorer children of Boston. Another paper on the same subject was read by Mr. Birtwell at the Lake Placid Conference of the A. L. A. in 1894.
Appreciation of this work is expressed in the 1915 report of the Children’s Aid Society: “The most important service we render as a society is to show that the constructive forces within the average family, if properly directed, are tremendous in their power and effect. The home libraries do a work for children in their homes that is quite distinct from all the other services we render as a society.”
Charles Wesley Birtwell was born in Lawrence, Mass., November 23, 1860, and graduated at Harvard in 1885. He was general secretary of the Boston Children’s Aid Society from 1885 to 1911. He has been prominent in social and charitable work, and in 1887 originated the “home library” system of the Children’s Aid Society, the first general plan of this kind on record.
The first Home Library was established by the Boston Children’s Aid Society in January, 1887. Now it has seventy libraries here and there throughout Boston, and regards them as an important department of its work. The origin of the plan that has found so much favor in our eyes was simple. I had been connected with the Children’s Aid Society but a short time when many avenues of work opened up before me, and it was quite perplexing to see how to make my relations to the various children I became acquainted with real and vital. Among other things the children ought to have the benefit of good reading and to become lovers of good books. Indeed, a great many things needed to be done for and by the children. Out of this opportunity and need the Home Library was evolved.
A little bookcase was designed. It was made of white wood, stained cherry, with a glass door and Yale lock. It contained a shelf for fifteen books, and above that another for juvenile periodicals. The whole thing, carefully designed and neatly made, was simple and yet pleasing to the eye.
I asked my little friend Rosa at the North End, Barbara over in South Boston, and Giovanni at the South End, if they would like little libraries in their homes, of which they should be the librarians, and from which their playmates or workmates might draw books, the supply to be replenished from time to time. They welcomed the idea heartily, and with me set about choosing the boys and girls of their respective neighborhoods who were to form the library groups. Then a time was appointed for the first meeting of each library. The children who had been enrolled as members met with me in the little librarian’s home, and while one child held the lamp, another the screwdriver, another the screws, and the rest did a heap of looking on, we sought a secure spot on the wall of the living-room of the librarian’s family and there fastened the library.
I remember that to start the first library off with vigor, and secure the benefit from the beginning of a little esprit de corps, I went with the children the evening before the establishment of the library to see the Cyclorama of the battle of Gettysburg. We rode in a driving snowstorm in the street-cars from the North end, and had a gala evening. We got a bit acquainted, and on the next evening, the time appointed for the laying of the cornerstone of the whole Home Library structure, the first library, you may be sure the children without exception were on hand. I believe we had to wait a little while for Jennie, who lived across the hallway from Rosa, to “finish her dishes”; then up went the library. Very quickly the second library was established in South Boston, the third at the South End, and before long some neighborhoods were dotted with libraries.
The idea at the beginning was that the groups should be made up of fifteen children, but later we adopted ten as a better number. So the family in which a library was placed would have the books always within reach, and a handful of children from the same tenement-house or near neighborhood would have access to the books at the time set for their exchange, and when a group had extracted the juice from one set of books we would send them another. It was understood at the start that the children outside of the librarian’s family should exchange their books only once a week. I dropped in on the children when I could, but soon saw that the effectiveness of the work would be increased by regular weekly meetings of each group. As it would be impossible for me to visit them all myself, volunteers were sought to take charge each of a single library. Quickly the visitors began to come to me with all manner of puzzles–how to get the children to keep their hands clean, how to induce them to read thoroughly, what to do for a child who was ill, or a lad who was playing truant. Out of these interviews with individual visitors grew naturally the thought of a monthly conference of the visitors; and from an early period in the history of the libraries we have met once a month, except during the summer, and spent an hour and a quarter in discussing a great variety of questions, some general and some particular, that arise in connection with the libraries.
I must dwell a moment on the selection of books. The aim was to put really good literature into the hands of the poor in such a way that they would grow to love that literature. People, after all, are not so unlike. A really good book, a book that is human, that touches our sense of rugged reality, or the fancy or imagination which is native to us and as real as anything in us, is sure of a welcome among all classes of people, if it is couched in intelligible terms. I chose some books that I happened to have read myself, but soon coming to the end of the list of which I was perfectly sure, and finding it impossible to review enough books myself, I secured the volunteer help of a number of ladies who understood the children of the poor and knew how to pass judgment on books proposed for their reading. It was definitely understood that every book should be read by the reviewers from cover to cover. We would not depend upon advertisements, hearsay, or vague recollections of books read by ourselves years ago, but every book should be read from beginning to end with the immediate question in view of the admission of the book to the little libraries to be read by the poor in the homes of the poor. Publishers and book-dealers sent us books for examination. Upon a careful consideration of the written reviews of the volunteer readers, prepared according to certain canons, was based the decision as to their acceptance or rejection. It seemed clearly not worth while to take to the poor books not really worth their reading. If good books would not be read, then the plan should be given up. Had we been careless in the selection of books we easily might have done no little harm, and should not have learned that clean, unsensational, vigorous books that are loved by children in the homes of the well-to-do are welcome to children in the homes of the poor. The way to good taste in reading is not, as some curiously declare, through the mire of the dime novel and the sensational story, but straight along the clean, bright path of decent literature.
Although, by reason of the natural preference of some visitors, or the effect of changes in groups at first made up of both sexes, some groups are wholly made up of boys and others of girls, the ideal group is a mixed one as regards both sex and age–ten boys and girls from seven or eight to fifteen or sixteen years of age. Thus we provide for a healthful, unconscious association of the sexes and the training of the younger and older in their behavior toward one another, and in general touch the maximum range of relations, difficulties and services.
It follows from this make-up of a group that our books must be varied in order that in each set there shall be food for each child. So every library is made up of fifteen volumes, running the whole gamut from the nursery tale to Tom Brown at Rugby or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and also selections from juvenile periodicals suited to children of different ages, there being five collections of periodicals in each library, each collection comprising a bound portion of the annual issue of some periodical. You will readily see, therefore, that in order to select a new library it is necessary to have forty or fifty approved and unassigned books to choose from, and never is a set made up with its fairy tales, pictures of sweet domestic life, stories of adventure, simple history and biography, short stories, long stories, fact and fancy, humor and pathos–never is a set made up, preliminary to starting out upon its first visit, without my mouth watering to read them all myself.
To put the books to an interesting test, but more especially to induce the children to read appreciatively and really use their minds as they read, a form was made out on which the librarian or visitor should record the opinion of each child in regard to each book he returns. The evolution of these opinions from the obnoxiously frequent “nice” and “very nice,” or the occasionally refreshing “no good,” of the early history of a group into really intelligent and discriminating opinions, is one of the sure marks of progress and value in the work.
A set of books usually remains with one group of children ten weeks or three months before it is exchanged for a fresh set and in turn goes to another group. So you see the Home Libraries stand for nothing less than a perennial and constantly fresh stream of good literature.
To make sure of the parents being back of us in our relations to the children, we have a little blank application for membership, which is signed by the parent or guardian as well as the child. It is noticeable that on many of these cards the children write not only their own names but the names of their parents, the latter, themselves unable to write, affixing their cross.
The volunteer visitors, as opportunity offers, on cards placed in their hands for the purpose, make a record of information concerning the family, their history, condition, habits, their reading at the inception of the library, and subsequently such items as may reveal their further history and the possible relation of the library to their life.
Close upon the heels of this effort to make books mean to poor children what they mean to the more fortunate, followed the idea of bringing to them a knowledge of those ways of having a good time within the walls of one’s own castle that are so familiar in families where parents have leisure and ingenuity, and that make our childhood seem to our adult years, of a truth, a golden age. Without the elbow-room that some kinds of fun require, without money to buy games, without leisure to play them or to teach them to their children, forever held down by drudgery, forever pressed upon by the serious hand-to-hand fight to keep the wolf from the door, is it strange that the poor know next to nothing of the commonest home games and diversions? To the Home Libraries, a name sweet and dear to us who have had to do with them, came this further idea of Home Amusements. After the exchange of books, conversation about them, the recording of opinions, perhaps also reading aloud by the visitor or the children, they turn from books to play. It is the duty of the visitor to be informed in the art of merriment, and to teach the children all sorts of ways of having fun at home. Nor is it a slight advantage that thus inducement comes to the grown-up folks to look on and laugh too.
But as naturally as the rose-bush grows and more than a single bud appears and turns to blossom, so came another unfolding from the Home Libraries stock. “The destruction of the poor is their poverty.” Might we not add to the home reading and home amusements inducements to Home Thrift? We began to get the children to save their pennies. Presently the Boston Stamp-Savings Society was established. So we purchase stamps from that society and supply them to visitors. The visitors in turn sell them to the children at the weekly meetings. The children are supplied with cards marked off into spaces in which they paste the pretty stamps as they buy them. When a card is filled, or when the total value of the stamps on a card is sufficient to make it worth while, perhaps fifty or seventy-five cents or a dollar, the stamps are redeemed, and the visitor goes with the child to open an account at some regular savings bank. The collection of pennies is resumed, to be followed by another redemption of the stamps and the swelling of the account at the savings bank.
I hardly need tell you that the Christmas festivities of the children are largely held under the auspices of the little libraries, or that in the warmer season you will find the visitors and children taking excursions together to the lovelier spots in the woods and at the shore. Once a year, too, we have a sale of plants. Last spring we sold three hundred and eighty-three plants to the children for windows and gardens. We have promised that all who will appear this autumn with live plants shall have a treat.
Through the visitors, too, we hear of cases of destitution, truancy, waywardness and moral exposure, of unfit dwellings, and illegal liquor-selling. Such things we report to suitable agencies–the other departments of our Children’s Aid Society, the Associated Charities, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Board of Health, the Law and Order League.
From all of this you will easily see why we think that ten children are enough for a single group or visitor. We expect the visitor to know not only the children of the group, but the families to which they belong, and as the children grow older, and are graduated from the little libraries, to follow them still as their friends. It is a highly important function of the Home Library to bring with good books a good friend, whose advice the children will seek, whose example they will aim to follow, and whose esteem they will not wish to forfeit.
We are having to face more and more the question of the graduates of the libraries. One thing we propose for them is a printed list of selected books that are in the Public Library with the numbers that they bear. These lists in the hands of our graduates we think will continue to guide them to the choice of good reading. So, too, we hope to see our graduates go from the little libraries into the working girls’ clubs, the associations for young men, and the workingmen’s and workingwomen’s clubs. And we want the love of good books, and all that good books stand for, to follow them.
We have now, about six years and a half since the first library was established, seventy libraries scattered throughout Boston, with sixty-three volunteer visitors and a membership of six hundred and thirty-four children. Since June, 1889, one paid assistant, a lady who was among the first volunteers in the work, has been employed, and has rendered most interested and efficient service. For the past two years we have employed also an extra summer-assistant, as so many of the visitors are away during that season, and as we try to give every library group at least one outing during the midsummer months. A committee of the Board of Directors of the Boston Children’s Aid Society have acted as volunteer visitors, and promoted and strengthened in various ways this department of the Society.
From the beginning it has seemed best to let the experiment work itself out somewhat fully before attempting to say too much about it. A widespread demand, however, for fuller information has arisen, and home libraries are being established in various cities I hope that before long a full record of the establishment and growth of the Home Libraries in Boston may be placed at the service of any who seek to adopt this form of philanthropic effort among the children of the poor.
One of the first librarians to give to library work with children a full appreciation of its possibilities in extension work was Salome Cutler Fairchild. An address given by her on January 10, 1898, before the New York Library Association and the New York Library Club on the development of the home library work in Albany describes some modifications of Mr. Birtwell’s plan, and is especially interesting because it indicates the relation of this method of extension work to the “new philanthropy.”
Mary Salome Cutler was born in Dalton, Mass., in 1855, was educated at Mt. Holyoke Seminary, and received the degree of B.L.S. from the University of the State of New York in 1891. In 1897 she was married to the Rev. Edwin Milton Fairchild. From 1884 to 1889 she was cataloguer in the Columbia College Library and Instructor in the Columbia College Library School. She became Vice-Director of the New York State Library School in 1889 and remained there until 1905. Since that time she has been a lecturer on selection of books and American libraries. Mrs. Fairchild was chairman of the committee in charge of the library exhibit of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and was identified with the publication of the A. L. A. Catalog.
It is probable that some of the readers of the Journal are unfamiliar with the idea of the home library. In a few words, this is its motive and its plan: To help the children of the poor in developing and ennobling their lives by giving them books and a friend.
The home library idea was evolved, not by a librarian, but by Mr. Charles W. Birtwell, secretary of the Children’s Aid Society in Boston, a very old non-sectarian society. It grew up in a most natural way. He fell into the habit of lending books to poor children of his acquaintance and of talking with them about the books after they had been read. This took time, and the result was organization. The children were formed into little groups, books were bought systematically, and his friends were interested to form regular visitors.
And so a home library involves a group of 10 poor children, a library of 20 carefully selected books placed in the home of one of the children and circulating among them all, a visitor, who should be a person of rare wisdom and sympathy, who meets the children once a week, talks over the books with them, and during the hour gives them all possible help in any way she chooses. Each group contains both boys and girls from eight to fifteen years of age.
There are several groups of children and several little libraries. Once in three or four months the libraries pass from one group to another. The personal element supplied by the visitor is quite as valuable as the influence of the books. It is hard to tell just what the visitor does. It is perhaps simplest to say that she is a friend to the children and that she studies how to help them. That means a great deal. The plan is elastic and each visitor chooses her own methods.
Doubtless many librarians listened to Mr. Charles Birtwell’s paper on home libraries at the Lake Placid conference, September, 1894, and are thoroughly familiar with the central thought and its application in the parent libraries in Boston. To such I would like to call attention to some modifications of the plan in the Albany libraries, to a few new points which we have worked out and old ones which we have emphasized.
It goes without saying that each book is read carefully by at least one member of the selection committee with special reference to the home libraries. It is not enough that a competent judge has read it without having that in mind. We are constantly tempted to give these readers books a little too old for them. They enjoy books which children who have always been familiar with books would be ready for three or four years earlier.
Visitors should be prepared for disappointment in the quality of the reading that is done. At the beginning of my work with the children I was delighted with their enthusiasm over the books. To be sure their choice was often determined by the attractiveness of the cover or big type, or the bigness or littleness of the book. I soon found that it was a rare thing for a child to read a book through. They would often say with pride “I read 30 or 60 pages” and were unwilling to take the book again, though claiming to like it. It is a slow process, but now after over two years they read with much more enjoyment and thoroughness. It was a long step ahead when the brightest child in the group began to read the continued stories in the St. Nicholas and to watch eagerly for the next number.
I wonder if these children are not in a way a type of the readers in our larger libraries. We fondly hope that there will be an immediate and hearty acceptance of the good things which we have spread out with such lavish expenditure of our own life, later we learn that even among the educated classes the genuine reading habit is the heritage of the few and among the many must be the result of a slow and steady growth.
I think we have improved on the Boston plan in dealing with the magazines. They take nine different periodicals and break the year up so that with one library of 15 books the children have parts of five periodicals. We put 18 books in each library and subscribe regularly for each group of children for St. Nicholas and Youth’s Companion. In some of the groups the children have not cared for Youth’s Companion. It has been given a fair trial since July, 1894, and we have just substituted Harper’s Round Table as an experiment. Other groups, however, are devoted to the Youth’s Companion. St. Nicholas is a prime favorite with all.
We do not buy cheap editions. Grimm’s “Fairy tales” is selected in the tasteful Macmillan edition with illustrations by Walter Crane. Hawthorne’s “Wonderbook” is given to them in the exquisite illustrated edition of Houghton, Mifflin & Co. We consider the illustrations and the dainty covers a part of the educative value of the book. We do not cover the books permanently, but give them covers which slip on and off easily that they may use them at their pleasure. A good deal of pride is developed in each group of children in having the little library clean when it passes on to the next group.
An effort is of course made to balance the libraries, putting in each a volume of history, one of light travel, and a book about animals like Mrs. Jackson’s “Cat stories,” “Buz,” “Sparrow, the tramp.” Stories of course predominate. Fairy-tales are by all odds the most popular and get the hardest wear. I have noticed that this is also true in the children’s travelling libraries sent out by the New York state library. In one group of home library children Grimm’s “Household tales” was such a favorite, and they called for it so persistently, that an extra copy was bought for their benefit and is almost constantly in use. They much prefer it to Andersen. The naming of the libraries and of the groups of children is a new feature. Of our nine libraries five are named for children. Any person, or number of persons, giving $25 (the cost of a new library with its bookcase) is entitled to name the library. The plan is a popular one and several gifts of that sort have been received. In one case a small framed picture of the child for whom the library is named goes with it and the children seem to have a positive affection for the picture.
The children choose for themselves some hero to give the name to their club, or group. We have the Washington, the Columbus, the Anthony Wayne, the Lincoln, and the Edison groups, and one more recently formed, not yet named. It is a significant fact that the children knew and admired Anthony Wayne because they read about him in Coffin’s “Boys of ’76.”
One beauty of the home libraries is the simplicity of the central idea and the natural relations between the children and the visitor. It is quite possible to combine with this much direct educational work. Games are almost always used by the visitors.
The skilful visitor, who should have the spirit of the kindergarten and might well have also her training, may develop through the games attention, concentration, and courtesy, qualities in which these children are especially lacking. It is an interesting study to watch the development of the game of 20 questions; e.g. from a wandering, haphazard medley asked in a slow and painful way by self-conscious children, to quick, intelligent, carefully planned questions
To illustrate more specifically an attempt at educational work, the Columbus group may be taken as an example.
There is a badge consisting of a bronze medal with the head of Columbus, fastened with a knot of red, white, and blue ribbon. The rule of the group is the rule of the majority; e.g., when games are to be played a vote is taken and all are expected to enter heartily into the one chosen by the majority. By constant application of this plan and the discussion which it involves, those children have come to understand pretty well the nature of a vote. There is a child’s life of Columbus and a scrap-book containing pictures of him. The Columbus group are appropriately discoverers, and as they have set out to find out everything possible about their own city, once a month the group goes out together for a long walk. They have visited the capitol, geological hall, city hall, the Schulyer mansion, etc. Every week 10 minutes are spent in studying the city, the name and location of the streets, the city buildings, the government of the city, its history and antiquities, the cleanliness of the city, etc. Many problems of city government which are taking the attention of the best minds to-day can be studied in simple form here. And this is real study. It is simple and elementary, but not haphazard, and what they get is definite and organized. It is not merely amusement, though they are interested and take hold heartily. A simple statement of each lesson is duplicated and put into the hands of the children. These will be combined into a handbook useful for all children in the city and suggestive for other cities. I hope that some line of study may be taken up by the other groups, each visitor choosing that which she can best develop. Light science would be attractive to some and of real service to the children.
Music, always a powerful agent in the development of life, is specially useful in this city because the music taught in the public schools is purely technical. All the children have met on Saturday afternoons in the kindergarten room of one of the public schools to sing under the direction of a competent director of music who loves children and takes genuine pleasure in the work. This gives them a little repertoire of choice children’s songs to take the place of the street songs which was about all they knew before, helps to soften their voices in speaking, and also serves as an excuse for bringing together the children of the various groups about once a month and making a little esprit de corps, which is desirable. It is wonderful when they are inclined to be boisterous and unmanageable in their games what a humanizing influence a sudden call for one of these songs will produce.
It is proposed to circulate games suitable for playing at home, also small framed pictures after the plan of the Milwaukee Public Library. The books are often read by the parents and older brothers and sisters. The games and pictures would help in like manner to sweeten and ennoble the home life.
But why should you be interested in the home library and in allied movements? Is it simply because they are an extension of the book power to which you have pinned your faith? There is, I think, a deeper reason. The movement known as the new philanthropy is one of the strong factors in our civilization to- day. The life of the community is the study of the man who serves the public as librarian. Nothing which is an essential part of that life is foreign to him. As distinguished from the old- fashioned charity which relieved individual suffering without regard to its effects on society, the new movement is characterized by two tendencies:
1. A scientific study of the principles of philanthropy: information before reformation.
2. A spirit of friendliness: not alms, but a friend.
Men and women of singular ability, of the best training and devoted to noble ideals, have given their lives to studying the problems of the poor, and so we have colleges and social settlements, free kindergartens, home libraries and a score of other new activities, one in spirit and in aim. But there are not enough trained specialists.
The philanthropic work of our cities is largely done by young ladies of the leisure class, quite a proportion of them graduates of colleges, and with a splendid mental, moral, and social equipment for the work. But they are raw recruits for lack of discipline. Caught in the wave of enthusiasm they plunge zealously into work with very little understanding of underlying principles.
I have given a good deal of thought to this difficulty and am persuaded that there is a way out. I want to present it here because, if it appeals to you as wise, you will be able to help in putting the plan to the test of experience. As the difficulty is ignorance, the remedy is study.
A class in philanthropy should be organized, for serious study in the scientific spirit and by the scientific method, under the direction of as competent a teacher as can be secured. Only those who are determined to do serious work and who have ability to cope with these problems should be admitted. Every attempt to popularize the course should be discouraged. The class might be carried on under the auspices of a church, a charity organization society, or even of a library. The initiative should be taken by some one person with the requisite discrimination, tact, and organizing skill. According to my outline a two- years’ course is needed, involving an hour of class work once a week, with, if possible, five hours a week of study, and for nine or ten months in the year. Laboratory work, that is, investigation of local conditions, should be carried on throughout the course. Lectures combined with seminar work seem to me the best methods of instruction. The literature of the subject is rich and helpful.
At the end of the first course there would be two or three new persons competent to instruct, and these might organize other classes.
If this class in philanthropy could be carried on in any city for 10 or 15 years, the charities of the city would feel the effect of the work. Instead of crudity there would be strength, enthusiasm would be supplemented by wisdom. The result would be the strengthening of the personal character of the poor and the enrichment of the whole city life. For we rise or sink together. The higher groups of society cannot develop without a corresponding development in the lower groups.
And so I call you to study the problems of philanthropy, to follow intelligently the history of home libraries, to approve this plan of training if it be wise, if not to work out a better one. Neither is this to go outside your natural course on the ground of sentiment. You are to study the community on broad lines that you may give back to the community through many channels that abundant life which is the highest service.
LIBRARY DAY AT THE PLAYGROUNDS
The Monthly Bulletin of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh for October, 1901, includes an account of summer playground work which was begun three years before. Playground libraries as an introduction to regular library agencies are described by Miss Meredyth Woodward.
Meredyth Woodward, now Mrs. J. Philip Anshutz, was born in Waterloo, N. Y., in 1869, and was educated in the schools of Tecumseh, Michigan. She took special work in the State Normal School at Oswego, N. Y., and later studied in the Law Froebel Kindergarten Training School at Toledo, Ohio, and in the Chicago Kindergarten College. After teaching in this institution she became Principal of the San Jose Normal School in California. After this she studied in the Leland Stanford University. She took charge of the Home Library Work in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in 1901, where she remained until 1904, part of the time acting as assistant in the Training School for Children’s Librarians.
The work of supplying the summer playgrounds with books, begun as an experiment three years ago, was continued this summer as a part of the work done by the Children’s department of the Library for the children of this city. During the initial summer, five playgrounds were supplied, the total circulation being about 1,600. Last year the needs of seven playgrounds were met, with a result of 1,833 in circulation, while the present year nine playgrounds have given a circulation of 3,637 volumes, and this during one day in each of six weeks. At a joint meeting of the Library workers with the Kindergartners who had charge of the playgrounds, it was decided to set apart this day as Library day, and as high as 117 volumes have been issued in a single playground on that day, while one week every available book was issued in spite of a drenching rain outside.
Through the courtesy of the school directors and principals, the library was enabled to place the books, take registrations, and fill out cards, several days before the day for circulation. Thus much valuable time was gained, and the work begun and carried out more systematically. Boxes of books carefully selected from the best juvenile literature, comprising attractive stories of history, biography, travel, nature, poetry and useful arts, as well as fiction, picture books and the ever popular fairy tales, were sent to each playground. Each kindergartner also received for her special use a list of stories bearing on the thought she wished to emphasize each week, with the books containing these stories. Charging stations were improvised out of desks, tables, or chairs, in some vacant room, or corner of a hallway. Walls dismantled for the summer cleaning were made more attractive by gay flags, or picture bulletins illustrating the books to be circulated.
One morning spent at a playground on Library day would be enough to convince the most sceptical that the children fully appreciated their opportunities. As one of the kindergartners remarked, “You’d think they had never seen a book before.” They swarmed about the windows and doors of the circulating room, and at one school, when the impetuous but good-natured line became too eager, they were restrained by the commanding voice of the policeman to “Back up.” Even the charms of an exciting game of base-ball had no power over a wonted devotee, when pitted against the attractions of an interesting book. Kindergartners from five playgrounds agreed that by far the largest attendance was on Library day, many of the older children coming on that day only. They felt “too old to play,” but never too old to read.
The signature of one of the parents, with that of the child’s, entitled him to draw books. One little tot begged hard to have a “ticket,” and be allowed to take books home, insisting with many emphatic nods that she could write her name. On trial only a few meaningless scratches resulted, and the tears that filled her eyes at her failure were banished only when the librarian promised that she might come each week, and look at the picture books. Another child asked for a card for his little friend who had rheumatism, and couldn’t come to the playground. A mother of the neighborhood took a card that she might draw out picture books, and books of rhymes and jingles for the little one at home. The “little mothers” invariably saved a place on their cards for a book to please the baby brother or sister tugging at their skirts, or, it might be, for some older member at home. Very often the whole family read the books. One boy waited till nearly noon on Library day for his father to finish the “Boys of ’76.” Another said he wished he might take three books, because there were four boys at home, and he would like to have enough “to pretty near go ’round.” In another family three of the children were drawing books. Still the older sister had to come down to get a book for herself, saying the others never gave her a chance to read theirs.
In these miniature libraries not only do the children become familiar with library regulations, but more judicious and intelligent in the selection of books. At first they choose a book because it has an attractive cover, large print, “lots of talk” (conversation), or because it is small and soon read. “I tell you, them skinny books are the daisies,” said one, while the opinion of another was, “These ain’t so bad if they’d only put more pictures in to tell what they’re about.” Later they select a book because the title tells of interesting subject matter, or because a playmate has recommended it as “grand,” “dandy,” or “a peach.” A popular book often has as high as ten or fifteen reserves on it, the Librarian being greeted in the morning with a chorus of, “Teacher please save me”–this or that book. So, from having no idea of choice, the children finally have such a definite idea of what they want, and why they want it, that, unless the particular book is forthcoming, they “guess they don’t want any book to-day.” One small girl took out “Little Women,” and wanted “Little Men” on the same card. When she understood that only one book of fiction could be taken on one card, she inveigled her little sister into taking it on her card. Then she tucked the books under her arm, remarking, with a sigh of satisfaction, “Now, we’ll have ’em both in our family.” In striking contrast to the excitement attending the selection of books is the lull that follows. Here and there are interested groups looking at the pictures– delightful foretaste of what is to follow in the text–or comparing the merits of the different books. Some have already made an absorbed beginning in the story which will be finished at home, on the door step, or by the evening lamp, when the more active games of the day are over. Nor are these absorbing books always fiction. The statistics show that stories of travel, lives of great men, and books on natural history were fully as popular as the fiction. The fiction per cent of last year was reduced from 60 per cent to 52 per cent this year.
And so the work for the season has closed, leaving many a young reader not only trained but enthusiastic to enjoy regular library privileges. The general verdict of the children was that they were “Sorry it was over.” Four lads from the South Side begged that they might get books from the Main Library, and one boy presented his card the very day after the playground closed. Nearly all the branches have gained new adherents from their respective districts.
On the whole we feel well pleased with the season’s work, although, as is natural, the work done by the two new Branches was not so successful as that elsewhere owing to the fact that the work was new to the district. When compared with that done in the districts where it has been carried on for three years, it gives a striking example of the growth and development which has taken place since the beginning. As a result of the work, at the West End Branch alone, fifty-two children from the Riverside playground have taken out library cards. The children are better trained in library usages, and more intelligent as to what they want, often counting from one year to the next upon getting a certain book. Out of this enthusiasm there naturally result the Home Library groups and clubs which furnish books during the winter. One notable outgrowth of last summer’s playground was the Duquesne School Club, whereby the children of the Point were enabled to get books through the winter. This has since been superseded by the introduction of the School-Duplicates, and now the children hold elections for their various officers, while the wide-awake principal has gotten out a neat little catalogue of the books in their collection.
Unemployed and uninterested children are fallow ground for the seeds of mischief and crime. The half-day playgrounds do wonders toward solving the problem of the vacation child. Do not the interesting, wholesome, juvenile books made so accessible to the children also play a large part in this good work?
LIBRARY WORK IN SUMMER PLAYGROUNDS
At the Pasadena Conference of the A. L. A. in 1911, Miss Gertrude Andrus led a discussion on library work in summer playgrounds, in which she considered some simple methods of administration. Gertrude Elisabeth Andrus was born in Buffalo, N. Y., acted as an assistant in the Buffalo Public Library in 1900-1901; was a student in the Training School for Children’s Librarians in Pittsburgh from 1902 to 1904; children’s librarian in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh from 1903 to 1908, and since that time has been head of the children’s department in the Seattle Public Library.
The library in a summer playground serves a double purpose; it supplies books in a district not otherwise reached by the library and it acts as a lure to the use of the main library. If the books are attractive, the children will follow them to the main library and thus become permanent borrowers. So it is plain that the books we place in our summer playgrounds must be of the most popular type. Easy books, picture books, fairy tales, stories, histories, books of travel, and books on games and manual arts are the ones most in demand. A knowledge of the district in which the playground is located is also necessary. If the children have a school library and are accustomed to reading, the books sent to the playground will differ from the kind sent to one in a foreign district where little reading has been done.
As the library room is invariably used for other work on other days, the books must be locked up. A satisfactory solution of this is a built-in bookcase with adjustable doors which may easily be lifted from their sockets and set aside when access to the books is desired, and may be replaced and padlocked when the day’s work is done. The arrangement of the room and the charging desk should always be made so that the exit can be very carefully supervised.
In order to conserve our time so that we may have leisure to give attention to individual children, we must arrange to have the mechanical part of the work as systematic as possible. Playground library work is a life of stress and strain. Everything comes in rushes. There is always a mad dash for the door as soon as the library is opened, for each child is sure that unless he is the first he will miss the good book that he is convinced is there. This rush of course makes it difficult to discharge the books, slip them, shelve them, and at the same time charge the ones the children have selected, to say nothing of helping the children in their choice. We have therefore found it best to collect the books beforehand, discharge them and distribute the cards among the children before opening the library doors. When the Newark system is used, however, and a child has drawn two books, this may result in considerable confusion, for the books may be separated and one may not be sure that both charges on the card should be cancelled. When our first playground library in Seattle opened, we used the Browne system of charging and this proved so satisfactory that we have continued to use it in the others. According to this method, each borrower receives two cards. When a book is borrowed, the book slip is drawn and put with one of the borrower’s cards in a small envelope. It is readily seen how easy it is to avoid complications when the books are gathered before the opening of the library, for the slip of each one is with the borrower’s card, and if the borrower returns no book, no card is given him. After the books are discharged and shelved and the cards distributed, the children are admitted. In this way much of the confusion incident to opening is eliminated and more time is secured to help the children make their choice.
In order that the care of the books may not interfere with the children’s play, we have devised a checking system by means of which the children may leave their books in charge of the librarian until they are ready to go home. This not only allows the children freedom in play but obviates the possibility of loss of books through their being left on benches and swings. The playground is a place of freedom and fun and good fellowship, and the library’s rules should be made as inconspicuous as possible.
The librarian should be not only willing, but anxious to enter into the life of the playground as far as her duties permit. One way in which she will be able to make herself popular not only with the children but with the instructors is by means of story telling. Joseph Lee says that story telling is the only passive occupation permissible on a playground and the librarian thus finds her work ready to her hand. She is able to advertise her books, make friends with the children is a most effective way, and at the same time relieve the playground instructor of a duty which is sometimes found irksome.
She must remember that she is an integral part of that playground, not a weekly visitor, and she must throw herself into the interests and activities of the children with all the enthusiasm at her command.
THE SELECTION OF BOOKS FOR SUNDAY SCHOOL LIBRARIES AND THEIR INTRODUCTION TO CHILDREN
In the following article taken from the Library Journal of October, 1882, Mr. S. S. Green says that his “principal object is to show how books are selected and how children are interested in books in the Sunday-school in which I am a teacher.” It is interesting to know that in a recent letter written to the editor in regard to the use of this article Mr. Green says: “As I read it over, it seems to me that the advice given in it is still much needed.” Samuel Swett Green was born in Worcester in 1837, and was graduated from Harvard in 1858. In 1890 he was appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts an original member of the Free Public Library Commission. He was one of the founders of the A. L. A., and also a life member, and was chosen its president in 1891. From 1867 to 1871 he was a trustee of the Worcester Public Library, and he was librarian from 1871 to 1909, when he was made librarian emeritus. Mr. Green has published several books on library subjects.
It is gratifying to notice that the movement started several years ago by certain ladies connected with the religious body known as Unitarian Congregationalists, who organized themselves under the name of the Ladies’ Commission for the purpose of reading children’s books and preparing lists of them suitable for Sunday-school libraries, has led within two or three years to the formation of a similar organization in the Protestent Episcopal Church, and more recently to that of one among Orthodox Congregationalists.
Individual clergymen and others have also lately shown a great interest in the work of selecting and disseminating good lists of books suitable for Sunday-school libraries.
It is unnecessary to say that it was high time that this work was entered upon earnestly. The officers of the more intelligently administered public libraries had come to reject, almost without examination, books prepared especially for the use of Sunday-schools, and without consideration to refuse works admission to their shelves issued by certain publishers whose business it was to provide for the wants of Sunday-school libraries.
It had become obvious, among other facts, that the same objections that were made to providing sensational stories for boys and girls in public libraries, lay equally against the provision of books usually placed in Sunday-school libraries.
The one class of books was generally moral in tone, but trashy in its representations of real life; the other, religious in tone, but equally trashy in its presentations of pictures of what purported to be the life of boys and girls.
Both classes of books were good in their intention, both similarly unwholesome.
Gratifying, however, as are the results of this movement, there is something more that needs to be done. Libraries must be purified from objectionable literature; new books must be properly selected; but after this kind of work has been done, a very important work remains to be attended to, namely, that of helping children to find out the books in the library that will interest them and pleasantly instruct them. Every child should be aided to get books suited to its age, its immediate interests, and its needs.
The Library Journal, in its number for June gave the title of a catalogue of the books in the Sunday-school library of the Unitarian church in Winchester, Massachusetts. In this catalogue short notes are added to the titles of some of the books to show, when the titles do not give information enough, what subjects are really treated of in the books annotated.
Something beside this is desirable, however. Children need much personal aid in selecting books.
I have been conservant of the work of a minister who, about a year since, after examining carefully all the books in the Sunday-school library of his church, and after taking out such volumes as he considered particularly objectionable and adding others which he knew to be good, set himself the task of talking with the children of his school about their reading. The school has a superintendent, but he, as minister, also takes an interest in it and has spent the time he has given to it, recently, in talking with the children, one at a time, about books, finding out from them their tastes and what they had been reading, and recommending to them wholesome books to read and interesting lines of investigation to pursue.
My principal object in writing this article is to show how books are selected and how children are interested in books in the Sunday-school in which I am a teacher. It seems to me that its methods are wise and worthy of being followed elsewhere. The Sunday-school referred to is that connected with the Second Congregational (1st Unitarian) Church in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Thirteen or fourteen years ago the library of this Sunday- school was carefully examined and weeded. Every book was read by competent persons, and the poorest books were put out of the library. This weeding process has gone on year by year; as new books have been added others not representing a high standard of merit have been removed from the shelves. Great care has been taken to examine conscientiously new books before putting them into the library. The result is that the Sunday- school now has an excellent library. It has found the catalogue of the Ladies’ Commission of great aid in making selections, but has not found all the books recommended in it adapted to its purposes. A competent committee has always read the books recommended by the Commission, so as to make sure that such volumes only were selected as would meet the actual needs of the Sunday-school we have to provide for.
Books are now bought as published. A contribution of about a hundred dollars is taken up annually. This money is put into the hands of the Treasurer of the Library Committee, and the sub-committee on purchases get from a book-store such books as it seems probable will answer our purposes, read them carefully, and buy such as prove desirable. The sub-committee consists of two highly cultivated young ladies. When they have selected two or three books they make notes of their contents. The books are then placed on a table in the minister’s room, and the superintendent of the school calls attention to them–reading to scholars a short description of each book prepared by the sub-committee, and inviting the scholars to examine the books after the close of the current session of the school or before the opening of the school the following Sunday. After these two opportunities have been given to the children to look at the books and handle them, they are put into the library and are ready to be taken out.
This sub-committee has taken another important step within a year or two. The members have read over again all the books in the library and made notes descriptive of their contents, and the school has elected one of the ladies as consulting librarian. She sits at a little table in the school-room during the sessions of the school, and with her notes before her receives every teacher or scholar who wishes to consult about the selection of a book, and gives whatever assistance is asked for in picking out interesting and suitable books.
She is kept very busy and is doing a work of great value.
It is gratifying to me to find that this work of bringing the librarian into personal contact with readers and of establishing pleasant personal relations between them, which has been so fruitful in good results in the public library under my charge in Worcester, has been extended to Sunday-school work with so much success.
THE CHILDREN’S MUSEUM IN BROOKLYN
The interesting and unusual work of the library of the Children’s Museum of the Brooklyn Institute is described by its librarian, Miriam S. Draper, in an article published in the Library Journal for April, 1910. Miss Draper says: “Contrary to the general impression [the library] is not composed entirely of children’s books, but of a careful selection of the best recent books upon natural history in the broadest use of the term.”
Miriam S. Draper was born in Roxbury, Mass., and taught for a brief period in the public schools there. She studied in Mr. Fletcher’s school at Amherst in the summer of 1893, and was graduated from the Pratt Institute Library School in 1895. In the next five years she filled the following temporary positions: Cataloguer, Public Library, Ilion, N. Y.; Organizer, first branch of the Queens Borough Library at Long Island City; Librarian of a branch of the Pratt Institute Free Library until its discontinuance; Cataloguer, Antioch College Library, Yellow Springs, Ohio; one of the Classifiers in the University of Pennsylvania Library during its reorganization. When the Children’s Museum was opened in 1900, she became its librarian, the position she now holds.
The Children’s Museum may be considered unique, because so far as we know, there is no other museum in this country or elsewhere that is devoted primarily to children and young people; in which a whole building is set apart for the purpose of interesting them in the beautiful in Nature, in the history of their country, in the customs and costumes of other nations, and the elementary principles of astronomy and physics, by means of carefully mounted specimens, attractive models, naturally colored charts, excellent apparatus, and finely illustrated books. Many of the children come to the museum so often that they feel that it is their very own, and take great pride as well as pleasure in introducing their parents and relatives, so that they may enjoy the museum and library with them. It may be called a new departure in work with children, for although it was started ten years ago, it was for some time in the nature of an experiment, but has now fully exemplified its reasons for existence.
The Children’s Museum is pleasantly located in a beautiful little park, which adds greatly to its attractiveness and educational value. While situated in a residential portion of the city, amid the homes of well-to-do people, it is quite accessible by car lines to other parts of the city. In fact, classes of children accompanied by their teachers frequently come from remote sections of Brooklyn, and from the East Side of New York. We are within walking distance of thickly populated sections, such as Brownsville, and large numbers of Jewish and Italian children avail themselves of the privileges offered. It is hoped that in time each section of the city may have its own little Children’s Museum, as a center of interest and incentive to broader knowledge.
We are well aware that excellent work has been done for children during the past ten years in many other museums, and perhaps the first beginning in this direction was made by the Children’s Room in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. The American Museum of Natural History in New York City provides an instructor to explain some of its beautiful and interesting exhibits to children, and a similar work has been done in the Milwaukee Museum. Children have been made especially welcome in other museums, such as those at Charleston, S. C., St. Johnsbury, Vt., and the Stepney Borough Museum in London. All librarians are so familiar with the excellent work done in the Children’s Departments of public libraries, which have developed so rapidly in almost every town and city throughout the country during the past decade, that it is not necessary to refer at length to them. Suffice it to say, that the work of the Children’s Museum and its library are quite different in plan and scope from any of the museums and libraries to which reference has been made.
Before describing in detail the work of this unique little museum, it may be of interest to know something of the early history of an institution which had its origin in connection with the first free library in Brooklyn.
As long ago as August, 1823, a company of gentlemen met together to discuss the question of establishing a library for apprentices in the “Village of Brooklyn.” Shortly after, the “Apprentices’ Library Association” was organized “for the exclusive benefit of the apprentices of the village forever.” The library was first opened in a small building on Fulton street, on Nov. 15, 1823, On the Fourth of July, 1825, the corner-stone of a new library building was laid, on which occasion General Lafayette took part in the formal exercises.
It is interesting to note that a year or two later, courses of lectures in “natural philosophy” and chemistry were given for the benefit of members; and the early records tell us that in illustrating a lecture on electricity the instructor, “Mr. Steele, showed a metallic conductor used by Dr. Franklin in making experiments.” Later, lectures on astronomy were given for the benefit of readers, and drawing classes established for a similar purpose.
A few years later the Library Association sold its building and removed to Washington street, where it remained for a long period of years. In 1843, the Association was reorganized under the name of the Brooklyn Institute, and privileges were extended to “minors of both sexes,” the library being called at that time the “Youth’s Free Library.” At the same time the custom was established of awarding premiums to readers on Washington’s Birthday. Silver medals and prizes of books were given for the best essays upon geography, natural history, hydraulics, architecture, and history, as well as the best pieces of workmanship and most accurate mechanical drawings presented by readers.
It seems a notable fact that courses of lectures, which have had a prominent part in the work of the Children’s Museum, were also an important factor in the earlier educational work connected with the library; and also that a “Library fund,” established sixty or more years ago, still provides all books and periodicals for the Children’s Museum Library, with the addition of a small annual gift from the state of New York, the cost of maintenance being assumed by the city of New York.
The establishment of the Children’s Museum came about in this wise. After a serious fire in the Washington street building, and the subsequent sale of its site, the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences secured an indefinite lease of a fine old mansion located in Bedford Park, which had been recently acquired by the city. The collections of birds, minerals, and other natural history objects were placed on exhibition for a few years in this old mansion, and the library, which now numbered several thousand volumes, was stored in the same building. On the completion of the first section of the new Museum of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, in 1897, the major part of the natural history collections were installed in the new museum.
At length the idea occurred to one of the curators that the old building could be utilized to advantage by establishing a museum which should be especially devoted to the education and enjoyment of young people. The first beginnings were made by the purchase of natural history charts, botanical and zoological models, and several series of vivid German lithographs, representing historical events ranging from the Battle of Marathon to the Franco-German War. Some collections of shells, minerals, birds and insects were added, and the small inception. of the Children’s Museum was opened to the public Dec. 16, 1899, in a few rooms which had been fitted up for the purpose. A large part of the Brooklyn Institute Library, which had been stored in the building, and which was no longer useful here, was sent to other libraries in the South, leaving such books as were suitable to form the nucleus of the Children’s Museum Library as well as the Library of the Central Museum.
With such modest beginnings the Children’s Museum has developed within ten years, until the present building has become entirely inadequate for present needs. The collections now fill eleven exhibition rooms and adjacent halls; the lecture room is frequently overcrowded, the lecture being sometimes repeated again and again; and the space set apart for the library has long been taxed to its utmost. There are no reserve shelves for books, and when new books are added the least-used books are necessarily taken out and placed in temporary storage in a dark office on another floor. In busy times after school hours and on holidays, the reading room is frequently filled to overflowing, many of the children being obliged to stand, or perhaps turn away for lack of even standing room.
The number of visitors is steadily increasing, and numbered 14,637 in the month of February, 1910; just about one-third of this number, or 4,925, made use of the library during the month. A new building is therefore urgently needed, and it is ardently hoped that a new fireproof building which is adequate for the purpose may soon be provided, to relieve the great stress now so apparent in many parts of the building, as well as to preserve its interesting collections and valuable library.
It seems evident that an institution which stands primarily for earnest endeavor to awaken an interest in Nature, is really necessary, especially in cities where many children live so closely crowded together that they hardly know what wild flowers are, and whose familiarity with birds is confined principally to the English sparrow.
Moreover, the nature study of the public school course, though good as far as it goes, is too often perfunctory, either from lack of interest or enthusiasm on the part of teachers, it being an added subject to an already crowded curriculum. Another seeming drawback is that the nature work is attempted during the first few years only, and then is dropped entirely for the remainder of the elementary course. A comparatively small number of children continue their studies in high schools; and even so, the study of botany and zoology is made so largely systematic and structural that any desire of becoming acquainted with the birds and flowers and trees is frequently eliminated.
Although entirely independent of the Board of Education it is along just such lines that the Children’s Museum is able to make a place for itself in supplementing the work of the school. Its aims have been defined by the curator to be as follows:
1. To employ objects attractive and interesting to children, and at the same time helpful to teachers, in every branch of nature study. 2. To secure an arrangement at once pleasing to the eye and expressive of a fundamental truth. 3. To avoid confusion from the use of too many specimens and the consequent crowding in cases. 4. To label with brief descriptions expressed in simple language and printed in clear, readable type.
In addition to the common species of birds, insects, and animals, there are many groups that have special attraction for children. For instance, among the “Birds we read about” are the flamingo, cassowary, condor, and quetzal; the eagle owl is contrasted with the pygmy owl, and the peacock, lyre bird, albatross, swan, and pelican are displayed.
In the Insect room the child’s attention is naturally drawn to the brilliantly-colored butterflies and moths, the curious beetles from tropical countries, and the “Strange insects, centipedes and scorpions.” There is an extremely interesting silk-worm exhibit, and the children who visited the museum two or three summers ago had the pleasure of watching some of the identical silkworms while spinning their cocoons. Young collectors are shown exactly “How to collect and preserve insects” by examining the object lesson which was especially designed for their help.
Among the realistic “Animal homes” which appeal especially to the child’s mind are the hen and chickens, the downy eider ducks, the family of red foxes, and the home of the muskrat. “Color in nature” is effectively illustrated by grouping together certain tropical fishes, minerals, shells, insects, and birds in such a manner as to bring out vivid red, yellow, blue, and green colors. Here and elsewhere in the museum are placed appropriate quotations from poets and prose writers.
In almost every room there are attractive little aquaria or vivaria containing living animals and plants. There is always a pleasure in watching the gold fish, or the salamanders, chameleons, mud-puppies, alligators, horned toads, tree toads, and snails. For three or four years an observation hive of bees has been fixed in a window overlooking the park, and children have watched the work of the “busy bees” with great delight.
The uses of minerals and rocks are shown by means of pictures of quarries, and of buildings and monuments, and lead pencils are seen in the various stages of manufacture. A small collection of “Gems” was recently donated, and the legends connected with the various birthstones are given in rhyme.
A black background has been used with pleasing effect to exhibit the various forms of shells. The process of making pearl buttons and numerous articles made of mother-of-pearl add largely to the charms of the Shell room.
Perhaps the most attractive room to the younger children is the History room, in which the beginnings of American history are typified not only by charts and historic implements, but by very