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Township School Libraries is emphatically the present great educational want of Wisconsin. It rises superior, in my humble estimation, to all others. It appeals most powerfully to the parent, to the Legislator, and to every lover of his race. It is only a question of time. It must come.
It must come. I firmly believe the people of this State are already prepared for it, and waiting for, and demanding its inauguration. They long to witness legislation the benefits of which will accrue directly and tangibly to every child and every family in the State—redounding to the lasting good of the State itself, to virtue, intelligence, and morality. They long to see legislation which shall, like the dews of Heaven, bring untold blessings to the very domicils of the humblest in community-legislation, of which every man, woman and child in Wisconsin can emphatically see and enjoy its happy results. They are willing to pay for the economical support of the State government, an upright judiciary dispensing justice alike to all, and humane institutions for the unfortunate ; but they ask also for the bread of intellectual life for their children. They demand School Libraries—the very best that wisdom and economy can devise-shall they have them? Never was a truer remark uttered, than that of CARL SCHURZ when he recently thus admonished our legislators : "Let them never forget, that true economy does not consist in close parsimony alone, but in a wise and appropriate application of the public moneys."
There should be a special fund permanently set apart for Township Library purposes, to be annually used in the purchase of carefully selected and approved books, uniformly and substantially bound, and apportioned among the cities and towns of Wisconsin according to some just system of equalization. That the books be selected by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, or a State Board of Education, or in such other manner as the Legislature may designate, and the contract made for them on the best terms, and in such manner, as may be provided by law.
The three States of Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, which have taken the initiative in the grand enterprise of Township Libraries, have neither of them taken a dollar from their School Funds for this purpose—and doubtless because those funds were not sufficiently large to warrant it. In the discussion of the present and prospective condition of the School Fund of our State, I think I have shown conclusively, that it is not now, nor ever can be, in a condition to divert from it any considerable amount for either library or other similar purposes. It should be husbanded with the most rigid watch-care exclusively for sustaining the Public Schools. I could not, therefore, with
with these views, advise any diversion of this fund for even so noble an object as establishing and perpetually replenishing Township Libraries.
While Indiana imposes a State tax of a quarter of a mill on taxable property, and a poll tax of twenty-five cents, and Ohio levies the tenth of a mill, for Library purposes, I would be inclined to suggest, whether a Library Fund for Wisconsin could not be best created, by setting apart one third of the annual income from the Bank tax, and all of the Railroad tax income. The State of Maine devotes the whole of her Bank tax to the benefit of her public schools, and so does Indiana. Assuming our present population at from 800,000 to 1,000,000, this would give us about the same proportional amount set apart for Library purposes as in Indiana, where as much as $110,000 a year has been raised ; and would be none too much to secure efficient and useful Libraries. Estimating, as has been done, the Railroad tax at $20,000, and $30,000 as one third of the Bank tax, we should have $50,000 annually for Library purposes ; or, upon an average, about seventy-five dollars for each of the six hundred and fifty towns and cities in the State—some getting more, and others much less than that amount.
Of course, an increase of population, together with an increase in the number of towns in the frontier counties, might or might not diminish the number and value of the books to be apportioned to each town, depending very much upon the fact whether the Library Fund would be of such a nature as to increase in a relative proportion.
For the 10,000 volumes added last year to here and there isolated district Libraries throughout the State, the people of Wisconsin could not have paid probably less than fifteen thousand dollars ; and it would be safe to estimate, that one half of the works, obtained of the itinerant venders, were worthless, or even worse. Deducting this worthless expenditure, we should be paying some $15,000 for 5,000 useful volumes, and these in poor, varied, and unsubstantial binding. Suppose we were to expend $50,000 annually for Township Libraries, and secure say 65,000 or 70,000 volumes—all thoroughly examined, and faithfully tested as good and useful—we should then for the $35,000'in addition to what we now expend, get not less than sixty thousand useful volumes more than we now do. We should, besides, have them in a far neater and more serviceable style of binding, and they would be three times as generally diffused as are our present libraries—for only one third of the State, after ten years' steady efforts to that end, has as yet been supplied with libraries, and that with but a few volumes to each collection. Sixty-five or seventy thousand volumes a year apportioned to the several towns and cities of the State, would be à very different matter from the weak and utterly inefficient system which has thus far given, upon an average, less than a volume a year, for the last ten years, to each of the several school districts of the State. Larger libraries, annually replenished, would prove far more attractive than the present small and illassorted collections, and hence the real amount of reading done, and useful knowledge imparted, would be increased beyond all estimation.
If all the districts in the State should promptly engage in the great work of securing libraries for themselves under the present library law, it would prove a far more onerous tax on the people, and they have far less to show for it, than by the State system here suggested. The universal experience of other States has proven beyond a doubt, that the district library system is, pecuniarily, a wasteful and extravagant one, while the township plan is not only one of true economy, but fraught with the richest and most enduring blessings to the people.
Perhaps the objection might be raised, that this new system would create new officers to eat out the substance of the people. If additional officers were really needed to carry out so noble a reform, they should unhesitatingly and ungrudgingly be provided. But under the Township Library plan, there need necessarily be no new offices created. 'Under the present district plan, we have 1,375 libraries, and each of these must have a librarian; while, with the Township system, we should require but about six hundred and fifty librarians for the whole State—one for each town and city. Here then would be a large decrease of officers. I think, however, it would be but just and proper, that as a Township Librarian would have largely increased labors over the District Librarian, he should receive some reasonable compensation. This should be provided either by the town, or by imposing a tax of one cent on each volume taken out of the library. This idea of a cent tax on the books taken out of the Library is not a new one, as Hon. HENRY BARNARD assured me; and he advised it as a good regulation. Fines and penalties could either be applied towards the Librarian's compensation, or for Library fixtures and occasional re-binding
It may be asked, what, in the event of establishing Township Libraries, should be done with the present district libraries? I should hardly think any legislation wonld be necessary. They are indisputably the property of the districts possessing them; and probably a large majority of the volumes, from injudicious selections and long usage, would not prove sufficiently desirable for the Township Library as to have them appraised, and the other parts of the town taxed for their proper share. By such a course, in a town where several district libraries exist, many works might thus be duplicated. It would seem to me most proper, that if the districts would not generously contribute them to the Township Library, they had better retain them for their own use. In addition to furnishing each town and city in the State with a library, I would suggest whether it would not be advisable, to furnish such a selection, as the State officer or officers, having this matter in charge, might deem appropriate, to the State Library, the Libraries of the State Historical Society, the Department of Public Instruction, the State Prison, House of Refuge, Deaf and Dumb Institute, Insane Asylum, Blind Asylum, and to each State Normal School, or Normal department, under State patronage and supervision. In each of these, I am very confident a proper selection would prove eminently useful. "Every man and woman," writes Hon. E. M. Macgraw, State Prison Commissioner, “who can read at all, is very anxious to have books and papers, and the greatest uneasiness is manifested when a book is read through before the day of change, and they have no reading matter on hand. I think reading has a very beneficial influence on the inmates of the Prison."
This general plan—at least the superiority of the township system over the old district plan, and the decided advantages of the State, through its properly constituted agents, selecting the books with a view to economy and superior excellence, has met with a far more general approval by the leading educators and friends of education in the country than almost any other matter connected with our Common School system. Among them it is gratifying to observe such a brilliant galaxy of names as those of Henry Barnard, Horace Mann, Barnas Sears, Caleb Mills, Ira Mayhew, Geo. S. Boutwell, Henry S. Randall, John D. Philbrick, H. H. Barney, Anson Smyth, W. C. Larrabee, Henry C. Hickok, H. H. Van Dyck, David N. Camp, J. S. Adams, and Maturin L. Fisher, who are now, or have been, at the head of the School Departments of their respective States, and such eminent men and friends of education as the venerable President Nott, Francis Wayland, Chancellor Amos Dean, Theodore Frelinghuysen, Alexander_D. Bache, Samuel Ś. Randall, Edward Everett, Wm. H. Prescott, Washington Irving, Bayard Taylor and Benson J. Lossing, together with a long array of worthy names of our
Extracts of letters from these several gentlemen, may be found appended to this Report, and cannot fail to produce a favorable impression.
Such is an outline of the Township Library system, with
something of a survey of its superiority over the old district plan. It is feasible; it is practicable; it is within our means. What other States have done, and is really worth doing, Wisconsin can do. Look at Indiana with her 370,000 volumes in her Township Libraries, Ohio with her 232,000, and Michigan with her 200,000 volumes! What a magnificent spectacle! And Michigan, too, reports but 173,000 children of school age, while Wisconsin reports 264,000; and, with this number of school children, Wisconsin ought, by the same ratio, to have over 300,000 volumes in her School Libraries; but so far from it, she has in reality, by her puny and degenerate system, only 38,000. No sane man, at all acquainted with the two States, would venture an opinion that Michigan is the superior of Wisconsin in any point of view; the wonderful increase of the latter over the former during the past ten years in wealth and population is sufficient proof on this point. It is then, the fundamental difference in the two systems that has made such a wide variance in the results of their respective school library experience. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, ours has been the old fogy system, which Michigan wisely abandoned long ago. We can, if we
, and possess the land, for there are only imaginary giants in the way. With a property valuation of well nigh two hundred millions of dollars, we have the ability: A quarter of a mill tax on this valuation, would yield $50,000.00
As a people, we are very ready to spend our money freely for purposes of very doubtful utility. The cost of crime alone foots up a very heavy item. Judging from its cost in Dane county, for officers' fees, jurors' expenses, &c., the aggregate for the whole State cannot be less than $300,000 annually, and fully two-thirds as much more should be added for lawyers' fees, in criminal cases, which would swell the total amount to half a million of dollars—one tenth of which annually, would soon bless every Township in the State with a noble library of the intellectual productions of the mightiest minds that ever existed. Had we more libraries, we should have less crime; the preventive is always cheaper and better than the cure.
I admire the frank and manly advice of Prof. J. B. TURNER, of Illinois, to the farmers of that State, urging them to write more than they do for their agricultural papers. “But when you write," he says, “ don't let it be exclusively about corn, pork, wheat and cattle, and pecuniary interests, all of which are vastly important to you and to the world; still, I say, don't speak of these exclusively, but let us also hear what you are doing to raise up a fine stock of children-of men and womento live on these beautiful prairies, and rule this Western Continent