Tuesday, February 14, 2006

F. B. Perkins, “How to make town libraries successful”

This article is a lovely slice of the 1870's view on public library management. It covers almost all the issues we've already discussed in class and more. From proper reading to females in the workforce to funding and access to problem patrons. Some of the issues remain valid ones, how to maintain funding, while others have changed drastically, not letting patrons into the stacks and the need for a classification scheme. I was especially surprised at how modern some of the ideas were about fiction and its place in libraries, or at least libraries where the patrons don't know any better.

As to the issue of funding, I thought there were two interesting concepts that still really apply. The first was the idea that a library should be thought of like a business, in which you need to find out what will make patrons frequent your library rather than another place. The second was the concept of making the citizens take ownership in their local library. The following passage expressed that idea well I felt:
"...it is desirable that a fair sum should be raised yearly for the support of a public circulating library by the community which uses it; for this recurring exertion will keep the public attentive, will incite the tax-payers to get some reading for their money, and will in every way maintain the inestimable American practice of making the individual citizen mind his own (public) business, by watching, managing, and using what he owns and pays for."

Thoughts on this and other ideas raised by the article? What concepts do you think still hold true? If you were to manage or work in a small town library today, do you think you could gain useful insight from this article?


Kelly said...

I thought it was interesting to read the instructions for setting up card catalogs, ledgers, etc., but I'm glad that we don't have to do those things by hand anymore! Much of the other practical advice on library management seemed still relevant today.

Attitudes towards naughty books have changed at least a little, though. My favorite line in this article was on page 421: "All such baneful literature should be an inexorably excluded from the public library as arsenic and laudanum and rum should be refused to children." Note that Perkins doesn't say that "baneful literature" needs to be kept from children, but from the whole library! Balzac's Contes drolatiques must have been more dangerous than drugs and poisons, because adults could be trusted to handle THOSE.

Hannah Gray said...

In "How to make Town Libraries successful", one of the dominant undertones of F.B. Perkins' article is that of Christianity. Though he never outright states that the purpose of the library, is a Christian one, many of his quotes strongly suggest that he is of this opinion. Never, he states, "will any mind well grounded in the old fashioned modesty of English Christians, ever give in to the folly of the modern French notion that literature, and art too, have nothing to do with morals" (421). Not only must librarians screen materials for inappropriate themes, but they must also examine them for religious/moral content. Is this simply Perkins view of the situation or was the library viewed fairly commonly as an extension of Christian values in this time period?
Followning this quote, Perkins goes on to state that "It is comparatively easy to produce a revival, either in religion or literature, and thus to found a church or a library; the real task is to maintain it in its proper growth and health afterwards" (429). Perkins appears to be claiming that the library and church have very similar, if not equal, roles in the revival of moral values.
Finally, in one of Perkins more amusing remarks he advises that "a perfect librarian is bound to be courteous and kind, attentive and accommodating, not only to the polite and considerate, but also to the evil and the unthankful" (427). In my mind the 'evil and the unthankful' that Perkins speaks of sound much like what I imagine Perkins' definition of a heathen would be!

Katie K said...

I found this article very interesting as well. Initially I wondered how it related to the feminization of the library field. However, in reading it, there were these subtle little clues that this was written with women in mind. At one point, on page 427, he writes, "...a perfect librarian is bound to be courteous and kind, attentive and accomodating, not only to the polite and considerate, but also to the evil and the unthankful." Besides being a very funny quote, this speaks directly to the idea of the female librarian's role as a good hostess, welcoming all guests into her home (or her well-furnished reading room), which, I believe, Garrison disucsses in The Apostles of Culture. This idea is restated just one page later, where he writes, "...it is the librarian's duty to perform not merely with justice and accuracy, but with conciliating kindness."

There's also one point at the very end of the article when Perkins is speaking about "executive and advisory departments" (i.e. supervisors and directors) and he says, "If the librarian is competent, he should be the trusted executive of the library, and behind him should stand a board of trustees or directors, or other consulting and legislative body." Immediately, the pronouns he uses stand out. In speaking of the managerial positions in the librarian, it is assumed the people filling those positions will be male.

Oh and I know someone will probably be thinking that everyone used the male pronoun when writing about people but this part definitely sticks to me.