Imagens da página

the imagination, or the fancy, I shall promptly apply the remedy which the law has placed in my hands."

Hon. CHRISTOPHER MORGAN, when Superintendent of Schools of New York, speaking of the School Libraries in his report of 1851, observed: “Injudicious selections of books are not unfrequently made by the Trustees, and the library funds committed to their charge squandered upon worthless, or worse than worthless publications. Hon. VICTOR M. RICE, in his report as School Superintendent of New York in 1854, after speaking of there being nearly 12,000 District Libraries in the State, says: “In those districts where the libraries have been best appreciated and most extensively read, the interest in their contents is to the largest degree exhausted, and can only be renewed by a constant replenishing of the shelves with fresh books. The existing appropriation is too small to produce a very marked effect in this way, and the consequence is, that both the old and the new volumes are falling into neglect. In the same report, Mr. RICE elsewhere adds: “The undersigned is constrained to believe, that the future supply of the libraries should be regulated by some safer agency than the hawkers and pedlars, who too often succeed in palming off upon the School Trustees, collections of wretched trash, that have no other recommendation than their nominal cheapness.

My official investigations and experience,” writes Hon. HENRY S. RANDALL, have amply satisfied me, that if the purchase of libraries is made optional with the districts — the alternative being that the library money may be diverted to the payment of teachers' wages, &c.-- the system will prove a failure. There is no doubt that a better method of selecting the books could be devised than having it done by the Trustees of the districts. On the whole, I should be much inclined to favor the plan proposed in your communication. If its details were well adjusted and carried out, I see no reason why it would not succeed, and result in a vast saving of the public money, and a vast improvement of the character of the works placed in the hands of the readers of Common School Libraries.

Amos DEAN, LL. D., of Albany, the Chancellor elect of the Iowa State University, and author of the present school system of Iowa, thus writes : “ The idea of small districts providing themselves with libraries that will be of any real value, is, in my judgment, perfectly idle. They will not half of them have any books at all, and those that they do have, may stand a great chance of doing more harm than good. If the quality of food that nourishes and sustains the body is at all worth attending to, much more is that which builds up and gives force to the mind, the spiritual principle.”

the spiritual principle.” icotta in goloidev HOUSO

[ocr errors]

" The most active and fruitful seeds of good and evil in our social system,” writes Benson J. LOSSING, of New York, the well-known author of the School Histories, found in the literature of the day; and the wisest discrimination is necessary to separate one from the other. It is impossible -- absolutely impossible to have anything approaching to the exercise of such wise discrimination in the system of District Libraries, as organized in some States. How can the Trustees of schools, elected for a temporary purpose, many or most of them away from the centres of business and general knowledge, and engaged in absorbing pursuits, be acquainted with the character of the thousands of books that fall from the press every year? They have no data to guide them, and they are left to the mercy of pedlars and others, who go about the country with sensation books'- in other words, moral and intellectual poison - and are compelled to form their judgment from the statements of lying advertisements. This is a monster evil ; and many of the libraries of this State are crowded with books that no judicious parent would willingly allow his child to read. In view of the importance of the matter, I heartily coincide with your expressed opinion in relation to Town Libraries, leaving the selection of the books to the State, through proper agents duly chosen by the people.

Hon. SAMUEL S. RANDALL, formerly Deputy State Superintendent of Schools of New York, and now City Superintendent of Schools of New York City, writes : “I cordially approve the substitute of the Town School Library system for that of District Libraries. In our own State the latter plan has been in existence for some twenty years, and although great good has undoubtedly been accomplished by the diffusion of comparatively a few volumes in every district, yet it is manifest that an infinitely greater amount of benefit would have been accomplished by the consolidation of the funds apportioned to the several districts of each town, and the purchase and gradual expansion of a Town Library, centrally located, and easily accessible to all. These views I have repeatedly and earnestly urged upon the Legislature, but as yet without success. consider the funds thus comparatively frittered away upon & few cheap books in each distfict, as little better than wasted ; while by the adoption of the Township plan, large and valuable libraries would speedily spring up, the worth of which would be unappreciable to the rising generation, and to the citizens of the State generally.'

Hon. VICTOR M. RICE, the late Superintendent of that State, observes in his last Annual Report : " The amount now apportioned to the rural districts, where libraries are most needed, is frittered into sums of one, two or three dollars-sums too insignificant to produce any appreciable effect, or even to repair losses. It is believed that the appropriation should be increased, and that it should be accompanied with such Legislative provisions as will secure the greatest economy in its expenditure, and the most judicious selection of books. The trustees, having but one, two, three, or four dollars to invest, purchase a very few volumes, at a very high price, compared with which they could be obtained in larger quantities. In some of the States, the funds appropriated for the increase of district libraries, are expended by an agent of the State, who procures, directly from the publishers, two or three thousand copies of such works as he may select, and apportions the volumes to the districts instead of money. True economy would be consulted by purchasing a whole edition of ten or twelve thousand volumes; for the same money would command at least twice the mercantile value of books which is obtained by the present method ; while it might also be reasonably hoped that the intrinsic literary value of the books would be equally enhanced."

The report of Hon. H. H. Van Dyck, the present Superintendent of Public Instruction of New York, made in January last, gives some interesting facts relative to the condition of the school libraries of that State. It appears, that in 1847. there were, in round numbers, 1,310,000 volumes in the School Libraries of the State ; in 1853, they had increased to 1,604,000; and since have gradually decreased, so that in 1857 there were only 1,377,000 volumes reported ; showing a diminution of 226,000 volumes in four years, or an average of over 56,000 per annum, while $55,000 per year had been appropriated on the part of the State for that purpose, on the express condition that the districts should raise for the same object an equal amount. Thus the total number of volumes in the School Libraries of New York exhibit but a slight increase during the last ten years, notwithstanding the expenditure of $1,100,000 within that period for library purposes.

That something should be allowed for the natural wear of books is reasonable ; but the real causes of the diminuition are unquestionably found in the reasons assigned by Mr. VAN Dyck in his last report—their probable destruction, to some extent, by use; their dispersion and loss by neglect; and the want of sound judgment by the local Boards of Trustees in regard to the selection of books. “Works of an ephemeral character,” adds Mr. Van Dyck, “embodying little amusement and less instruction, have too often been urged upon Trustees, and found their way into the library, more to the gratification of the publishing agent than the benefit of the district. It is true also in many cases, that when a library has attained to a respectable number of volumes, as measured in the estimation of those having it in charge, they look upon its enlargement as unnecessary, and seek to turn the appropriation from its legitimate purposes. Hence arise frequent applications to the Department for leave to appropriate the library money to the payment of teachers' wages ; whilst others, it is apprehended, divert it to this and other purposes, without the formalities required by law.”


In a personal interview with Mr. Van Dyck, in September last, he attributed the partial failure of the New York system, to the fact, that on the limited district plan, the libraries are generally too small to be attractive and useful; that very many districts receive from the State the mere pittance of one, two, or three dollars a year, for library replenishment-an amount manifestly too insignificant to do any material good, even if the few books purchased were of the very best character, and hence, in his opinion, the Township plan would be far preferable. It will be seen, that by dividing the total number of volumes in the School Libraries of New York by 12,000, the number of District Libraries in the State, the average number is 114 vol. umes to each District Library—the large majority of them, doubtless, being far less—as the result of twenty consecutive years' additions, and at a total cost of $2,200,000, or $182 upon an average to each library—or an average of a little over nine dollars to each, annually.

These facts and dearly bought experiences of New York, the pioneer State in the establishment of School Libraries, point unmistakably to two grand defects in the system of that State -first, the District Libraries being so small as to render them almost useless ; and, secondly, the sad waste of a noble fund by its unwise expenditure by local Trustees, who necessarily know but little of the most suitable books; and if they do, have no proper opportunities to select them. Hence the wisdom of the opinions of Hon. Henry S. Randall, Chancellor Dean, Benson J. Lossing, Hon. Samuel S. Randall, and Hon. H. H. Van Dyck, that a Township Library system, with the books carefully selected by proper State officers, would be decidedly preferable.

Massachusetts—The first to imitate the example of New York, was the State of Massachusetts. It was a noble aspiration of HORACE MANN, when he became Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, to plant the School Library in every neighborhood, so that there should not be a spot within the borders of the State, where a child should be at a greater distance than a half hour's walk from a library of books suited to his reading. But the first effort of Massachusetts in 1837, like that of New York, simply permitted the districts to tax themselves, and procure libraries. It proved a failure, as it did in New York; those who needed them most, were most blind to their own pressing wants. In 1842, a Legislative grant of fifteen dollars was made to each district, on condition of raising an equal amount, for the purchase of a library. The State Board of Education suggested two series of books, of fifty volumes each, nearly all small works; but the districts, after all, were left to their own discretion in the selection. Publishers having on hand old publications, re-bound them, and though often mere trash, disposed of them upon tempting terms of cheapness to the districts, and thus much that was almost worthless, if not positively injurious, found its way into the School Libraries. After three years experience, with the powerful aid of HORACE MANN, only about two thirds of the districts availed themselves of the benefits of the law, and about $60,000 were thus appropriated. A vast deal of good was unquestionably accomplished. Yet, except as a temporary measure, it is conceded that the system proved a failure. The poorer districts, where libraries were most needed, were comparatively unsupplied. There were three principal causes of failure: 1. Adopting the district instead of the township system. 2. The law provided for only a single appropriation, with no provisions for replenishing the libraries; so when the books were once read, they were laid aside, and the interest in the libraries ceased. 3. No proper provisions were made for the management of the libraries, and hence they were often thrust one side by some blockhead of a librarian, and left to neglect. These libraries have gradually disappeared. dsuda od dat

In 1853, the Legislature authorized each town to raise money for the establishment of a Town Public Library; some thirty cities and towns, in the course of five years, have established libraries—at which rate it would require fifty-five years for all the towns to be supplied. So far as adopting the town Library plan is concerned, this appears to be a step in the right direction; but without State aid and encouragement, and that permanently, a few spasmodic efforts, and at best only partial success can be expected.

Identiora Vibobis Maine.-Little has been done in this State as yet for School Libraries. In 1849, there were but seventeen District Libraries; and in 1851, after the district plan had been seven years in operation, only nine towns reported their establishment. Hon. E. M. THURSTON, Secretary of the State Board of Education,

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »