Monday, February 11, 2008

How to make town libraries Successful

This reading was very much characterized by the earnestness with which F.B. Perkins treated the matter of running a library. This makes sense though, as when he wrote it in 1876, libraries were still very fledgling operations. His first piece of guidance, that the library is to be treated as a business, is an interesting one, since the library has to balance being solvent on the one hand, and serving the public in a friendly way on the other. Perkins characterized these competing needs in an interesting way stating that a library is based upon “continual watchfulness, tact, and alertness with which not the wishes of the learned men, but the public demand for entertaining reading, is understood, and met and gratified, and managed.”
This service of entertaining reading seemed a bit conflicting to Perkins though. Although he felt the habit of easy reading must be formed by reading books one wants to read, he also felt there were some books a person just must NOT read. While I can understand this, the list he provided made the line very thin- how can one say yes to some things and no to others, and in doing this, who exactly is meant to be the final judge on what is and isn’t a “proper subject for contemplation by all”?
Going back to the business aspect of the library, I thought the detail Perkins went into shows a lot about how fledgling and open to interpretation the library was. While things like a catalogue or a record and delivery and return of books might seem like common sense, the basics had to be laid down first for us to get to that point. His minute descriptions of the library give a lot of credence to the idea that early library science focused to a very large degree on the practical side of cataloguing, policing, etc. I think Perkins did recognize that a librarian was meant to serve the public too though, as we see when he states it is the librarian’s duty “not only to give out and take back books, but it ought to keep its friends and to make new ones.” While this makes sense, I feel as though the burden of pressure to be both friendly and efficient at the same time must have been overwhelming at times.

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