Monday, June 16, 2008

Must Know More Than Books


The Public Librarian Needs to Be an Active Business Man.

The usefulness of a public library to a community is not measured by books and building, but by the ability of its librarian and the number of its readers. Put a good librarian in a roomy shed with a few thousand books, and he will do more for a city and its real education than a man who is not both an able and a trained librarian with 500,000 books and a building which cost $1,000,000, or, as in Boston, four times the value of the books it houses. A great public library today is simply terminal facilities and a distributing station for literature. The business of being a librarian has to be learned just as much as the business of being a railroad man, and to people in libraries the best librarians are just as well known as the best railroad men are to people about railroad offices. A good librarian of the first rank can get $10,000 a year without asking for it, and he is cheap at the price — a good deal cheaper than a poor man at $1,000. No man really equal to managing a library with an income of $30,000 or $40,000 a year can be got for less than $4,000 or $5,000, though men can be had cheaper, and cheap management, always the dearest, will be the result.

A librarian today is not a man who can talk about various kinds of books in an interesting way, or who can catalogue books, or who for years has always been at odd library jobs, or even is interested in "literature" and thinks that his "general knowledge of books" fits him for the work of librarian. The new librarian is as active and pushing as any business man. He studies a city like a retail dry goods man, he sees what people are going to read, and he uses the knowledge to turn them to what they ought to read. He classifies and catalogues and arranges and distributes his store of 100,000 or 500,000 books so that the rare books which some specialist wants to see once in ten years can be got just as easily and as quickly as the novel which every one wants and of which the library has to have 50 copies.

Such a librarian knows what schools are studying, and he puts books in the way of the pupils. He knows what is going on, and the delivery desk is always ready with an answer to any question about the books on any subject up for talk. He is alive to the finger tips, and he makes all his books live. No big auction of book rarities worth their weight in bank notes which takes place from Berlin to San Francisco passes without his getting what the library needs, and no ragged boy strays into the public library wondering what it is like but finds himself, he does not know quite how, seated and reading an interesting book. — Philadelphia Press.

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