The following article appeared in Men’s Welfare, October 1904
What the Public Library Offers.
ELECTRA C. DOREN. Dayton Public Library.
If it were left to me to name the short screed which follows, I should rather call it "an open letter upon how to enjoy a certain library," and leave it to you to find what library was meant and whether it could be either of profit or pleasure to you to become further acquainted with it. For then I should be sure of following any subject, which is, I am told, a virtue in a writer, and you, I think, would be more sure to follow after the library, which would be very virtuous of you.
I have just been reading the Buskin-Norton letters in the May " Atlantic," and as I lay down the page the feeling which comes over me, out of the good, pleasant English phrasing of those letters, which slip along like a happy river of friendship, is, "Well, everybody ought to know and love at least one good book!" It would be like the one good man or the one good woman of our experience; we shall think more kindly of the whole species ever after.
So it is a question whether the, library can do anything for you unless you have somewhere preserved within you, in spite of your hurried and busy lives, a certain little sprout of friendliness and desire for books—for literary books, I mean; not simply usefu1 books or books of love and adventure, mere "best sellers." Of course, there is the chance that any or all of these may be well written, in which case they may perhaps take rank as books, but it takes more than fine writing to make a book good.
Will Name Good Books.
This conviction, however, about the good book is so strong within me that I am ready to enter into correspondence with you (through these columns, if the editor will permit), the correspondence to be something of this kind; namely, that I shall give you once in a, while a list of good books and you who read them will send back through the paper a sentence or two about each of them. We shall then begin to learn what the library can do for us in the way of pleasure. We shall not look for profit. And to keep us in confidence for such waywardness in this profit-seeking age, we can take to our comfort the aphorism of Victor Hugo, "The beautiful is as useful as the useful."
Privileges of the Library.
In a way it is a good thing to know what your book privileges are through the Public Library, especially since there is soon to be a small branch of it under the direction of the Rubicon Club at the N. C. R. Extension. In the first place you should have a library card, which you can get by calling at the main library or any of its branches. While you are living or working within the corporation limits of Dayton you can become a card holder. You can then "draw books," as the by-laws phrase it, and you can take out two at a time—a current magazine and a book, or a novel and a book, or two books, or else a novel and a magazine, whichever combination best suits your mood at the time. (We shall not say anything about penalties and fines at this point; you will learn all about them when you keep your book out, over two weeks without renewing it.)
If there is a good book which is never "in" when you want it, for two cents you can leave a 'reserve' postal form and be notified when to call for it if it ever does come in. Or, if you are writing an article for the "North American Review" or for your study club, or some other purpose, and wish to use many books at once, you can have the privilege of a student card in addition to your regular one and may draw six books for a week. Usually you will only want them for the night before your paper is to be read, you know, so a week is ample.
How Teachers Are Helped.
If you are a settlement worker or teacher or leader of a boys' club, you can have a teacher's card upon which you may draw ten hooks for a month; still more, if your class is in one of the public schools, you can have for three months a small traveling library of twenty or thirty volumes to be loaned to children for home reading. With all the various cards the maximum number of books which a teacher could have out at once is about forty-eight. But such privileges are gold of Midas to one without time for reading. Better the one book and a few hours for reading it; and what is true for the teacher is true for the rest of us.
Someone, a friend of Emerson's, I believe, has very aptly said, "A good book is a book plus a good reader." There is something about a. collection of books set apart in a quiet, roomy place and all a-row under the soft effulgence of high-hung lights which inclines one to reading in a way that the single book (say on a cold, marble-topped table, or as a bit of bric-a-brac on a shelf) does not inspire us to do. It is a feeling something akin to the friendlier leaning to worship which the bigness of the cathedral somehow induces more certainly than the smaller, less well-proportioned church edifice. There is a certain splendor, too, of numbers which impresses the imagination so that we are raised in expectation to a receptive mood very congenial to the worshipful converse of books. So that the best place to induce the mood for reading is a large, quiet library.
The Pleasure of Editions.
And then there are editions. That is another pleasure to add to the brew of pleasant circumstances surrounding your book. Editions mean a great deal. Something of these, here and there, the larger library can offer you. I am thinking now, as I write, of a pleasant-paged, well-edited, quaintly-illustrated, spirited, new edition of Charles Lamb, in volumes twelve, which has just been bought for the Public Library, and how the lovers of Elia will sink into the quiet delight of it; whereas the dingy brown covers and foxed pages of the old Talfourd edition would repel them. Or, if it is serious research you are bent upon, then it is the library of many books, of indexes and special bibliographies and the skilled reference librarian you wish to seek. In this atmosphere, studiousness will perforce overtake you, however driven you may be by things on the outside.
Will Enlarge Library.
The Library Board has recently resolved to enlarge the Library building by erecting a commodious, well-lighted study hall next to the book stack. There will be shelving for 4,000 reference volumes, and well-lighted tables for fifty students. Immediately outside the door of this hall stand 50,000 volumes of the circulating library and one hundred of the best current periodicals. The English, French, German and Hungarian literatures are here represented. The study hall, with all its resources, and the library are open twelve and one-half hours a day, from Monday to Saturday, throughout the year, and the Museum above is open weekday afternoons. In four different quarters of the city there are branch libraries with reading rooms in school buildings for the use of the neighborhood, and in several factories and settlements other smaller branches have been opened.
Offers Wide Range of Topics.
Of the resources to be found in books belonging to the classes of fine and useful arts, science and sociology, history and travel, much might be written. The artist, the artisan, the man of affairs, the social reformer and the student of nature will find interesting and valuable recent discussions along all of these lines. If interest is expressed in them, short lists of the best books will be printed by the Public Library for distribution. The catalogue of the library fully represents the contents of the books under every possible subject and in many cases annotates many of the books with valuable descriptive notes; so full is the catalogue that it alone would inform one of the main currents of the world's thought, if it were followed closely.
No Enjoyment Equals Books.
In past times illiteracy and scarcity of books were the obstacles to reading. Now the multiplication of books, and of interests as well, forestall the ambrosial cup. To attain to the accomplishment of reading real books in these days is to possess an uncommon degree of resolution and the magnet of an unspoiled interest, but once attained no other pleasure matches the enjoyments of the library. There is a library which is yours. As the meek inherit the earth, so does the reader all books. If you visit it in the evening, you will find it large and roomy and quiet, and the glow of welcome shining on the books. Its librarians are your librarians, and their pleasure will be in serving your interests as you will give the opportunity.