HotFreeBooks.com
A Librarian's Open Shelf
by Arthur E. Bostwick
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

When anyone objects to the introduction into the library of what the colleges call "extra-curriculum activities," I prefer to explain and justify it in this larger way, rather than to take up each activity by itself and discuss its reasonableness—though this also may be undertaken with the hope of success. In developing as it has done, the Library in the United States of America has not been simply obeying some law of its own being; it has been following the whole stream of American development. You can call it a drift if you like; but the Library has not been simply drifting. The swimmer in a rapid stream may give up all effort and submit to be borne along by the current, or he may try to get somewhere. In so doing, he may battle with the current and achieve nothing but fatigue, or he may use the force of the stream, as far as he may, to reach his own goal. I like to think that this is what many American institutions are doing, our libraries among them. They are using the present tendency to eclecticism in an effort toward wider public service. When, in a community, there seems to be a need for doing some particular thing, the library, if it has the equipment and the means, is doing that thing without inquiring too closely whether there is logical justification for linking it with the library's activities rather than with some others. Note, now, how this desirable result is aided by our prevailing American tendency toward eclecticism. Suppose precisely the same conditions to obtain in England, or France, or Italy, the admitted need for some activity, the ability of the library and the inability of any other institution, to undertake it. I submit that the library would be extremely unlikely to move in the matter, simply from the lack of the tendency that we are discussing. That tendency gives a flexibility, almost a fluidity, which under a pressure of this kind, yields and ensures an outlet for desirable energy along a line of least resistance.

The Englishman and the American, when they are arguing a case of this kind, assume each the condition of affairs that obtains in his own land—the rigidity on the one hand, the fluidity on the other. They assume it without stating it or even thoroughly understanding it, and the result is that neither can understand the conclusions of the other. The fact is that they are both right. I seriously question whether it would be right or proper for a library in a British community to do many of the things that libraries are doing in American communities. I may go further and say that the rigidity of British social life would make it impossible for the library to achieve these things. But it is also true that the fluidity of American social life makes it equally impossible for the library to withstand the pressure that is brought to bear on it here. To yield is in its case right and proper and a failure of response would be wrong and improper.

It is usually assumed by the British critic of American libraries that their peculiarities are due to the temperament of the American librarian. We make a similar assumption when we discuss British libraries. I do not deny that the librarians on both sides have had something to do with it, but the determining factor has been the social and temperamental differences between the two peoples. Americans are fluid, experimental, eclectic, and this finds expression in the character of their institutions and in the way these are administered and used.

Take if you please the reaction of the library on the two sides of the water to the inevitable result of opening it to home-circulation—the necessity of knowing whether a given book is or is not on the shelves. The American response was to open the shelves, the British, to create an additional piece of machinery—the indicator. These two results might have been predicted in advance by one familiar with the temper of the two peoples. It has shown itself in scores of instances, in the front yards of residences, for instance—walled off in England and open to the street in the United States.

I shall be reminded, I suppose, that there are plenty of open shelves in English libraries and that the open shelf is gaining in favor. True; England is becoming "Americanized" in more respects than this one. But I am speaking of the immediate reaction to the stimulus of popular demand, and this was as I have stated it. In each case the reaction, temporarily at least, satisfied the demand; showing that the difference was not of administrative habit alone, but of community feeling.

This rapid review of modern American tendencies, however confusing the impression that it may give, will at any rate convince us, I think, of one thing—the absurdity of objecting to anything whatever on the ground that it is un-American. We are the most receptive people in the world. We "take our good things where we find them," and what we take becomes "American" as soon as it gets into our hands. And yet, if anything new does not happen to suit any of us, the favorite method of attack is to denounce it as "un-American." Pretty nearly every element of our present social fabric has been thus denounced, at one time or another, and as it goes on changing, every change is similarly attacked.

The makers of our Constitution were good conservative Americans—much too conservative, some of our modern radicals say—yet they provided for altering that Constitution, and set absolutely no limits on the alterations that might be made, provided that they were made in the manner specified in the instrument. We can make over our government into a monarchy tomorrow, if we want, or decree that no one in Chicago shall wear a silk hat on New Year's Day. It was recently the fashion to complain that the amendment of the Constitution has become so difficult as to be now practically a dead letter. And yet we have done so radical a thing as to change absolutely the method of electing senators of the United States; and we did it as easily and quietly as buying a hat—vastly more easily than changing a cook. The only obstacle to changing our Constitution, no matter how radically and fundamentally, is the opposition of the people themselves. As soon as they want the change, it comes quickly and simply. Changes like these are not un-American if the American people like them well enough to make them. They, and they alone, are the judges of what peculiarities they shall adopt as their own customs and characteristics. So that when we hear that this or that is un-American, we may agree only in so far as it is not yet an American characteristic. That we do not care for it today is no sign that we may not take up with it tomorrow, and it is no legitimate argument against our doing so, if we think proper.

And now what does this all mean? The pessimist will tell us, doubtless, that it is a sign of decadence. It does remind us a little of the later days of the Roman empire when the peoples of the remotest parts of the known world, with their arts, customs and manners, were all to be found in the imperial city—when the gods of Greece, Syria and Egypt were worshipped side by side with those of old Rome, where all sorts of exotic art, philosophy, literature and politics took root and flourished. That is usually regarded as a period of decadence, and it was certainly a precursor of the empire's fall. When we consider that it was contemporaneous with great material prosperity and with the spread of luxury and a certain loosening of the moral fiber, such as we are experiencing in America today, we can not help feeling a little perturbed. Yet there is another way of looking at it. A period of this sort is often only a period of readjustment. The Roman empire as a political entity went out of existence long ago, but Rome's influence on our art, law, literature and government is still powerful. Her so-called "fall" was really not a fall but a changing into something else. In fact, if we take Bergson's view-point—which it seems to me is undoubtedly the true one, the thing we call Rome was never anything else but a process of change. At the time of which we speak the visible part of the change was accelerated—that is all. In like manner each one of you as an individual is not a fixed entity. You are changing every instant and the reality about you is the change, not what you see with the eye or photograph with the camera—that is merely a stage through which you pass and in which you do not stay—not for the thousand millionth part of the smallest recognizable instant. So our current American life and thought is not something that stands still long enough for us to describe it. Even as we write the description it has changed to another phase. And the phenomena of transition just now are particularly noticeable—that is all. We may call them decadent or we may look upon them as the beginnings of a new and more glorious national life.

"The size and intricacy which we have to deal with," says Walter Lippmann, "have done more than anything else, I imagine, to wreck the simple generalizations of our ancestors."

This is quite true, and so, in place of simplicity we are introducing complexity, very largely by selection and combination of simple elements evolved in former times to fit earlier conditions. Whether organic relations can be established among these elements, so that there shall one day issue from the welter something well-rounded, something American, fitting American conditions and leading American aspirations forward and upward, is yet on the knees of the gods. We, the men and women of America, and may I not say, we, the Librarians of America, can do much to direct the issue.



DRUGS AND THE MAN[14]

[14] A Commencement address to the graduating class of the School of Pharmacy, St. Louis, May 19, 1915.

The graduation of a class of technically trained persons is an event of special moment. When we send forth graduates from our schools and colleges devoted to general education, while the thought of failure may be disquieting or embarrassing, we know that no special danger can result, except to the man who has failed. The college graduate who has neglected his opportunities has thrown away a chance, but he is no menace to his fellows. Affairs take on a different complexion in the technical or professional school. The poorly trained engineer, physician or lawyer, is an injury to the community. Failure to train an engineer may involve the future failure of a structure, with the loss of many lives. Failure to train a doctor means that we turn loose on the public one who will kill oftener than he will cure. Failure to train a lawyer means wills that can be broken, contracts that will not hold, needless litigation.

Congressman Kent, of California, has coined a satisfactory word for this sort of thing—he calls it "mal-employment." Unemployment is a bad thing. We have seen plenty of it here during the past winter. But Kent says, and he is right, that malemployment is a worse thing. All these poor engineers and doctors and lawyers are busily engaged, and every thing on the surface seems to be going on well. But as a matter of fact, the world would be better off if each one of them should stop working and never do another stroke. It would pay the community to support them in idleness.

I have always considered pharmacy to be one of the occupations in which malemployment is particularly objectionable. If you read Homer badly it affects no one but yourself. If you think Vera Cruz is in Italy and that the Amazon River runs into the Arctic Ocean, your neighbor is as well off as before; but if you are under the impression that strychnine is aspirin, you have failed in a way that is more than personal.

I am dwelling on these unpleasant possibilities partly for the reason that the Egyptians displayed a skeleton at their banquets—because warnings are a tonic to the soul—but also because, if we are to credit much that we see in general literature, including especially the daily paper and the popular magazine, all druggists are malemployed. And if it would really be better for the community that you should not enter upon the profession for which you have been trained, now, of course, is the time for you to know it.

There seems to be a widespread impression—an assumption—that the day of the drug is over—that the therapeutic of the future are to be concerned along with hygiene and sanitation, with physical exercise, diet, and mechanical operations. The very word "drug" has come to have an objectionable connection that did not belong to it fifty years ago. Even some of the druggists themselves, it seems to me, are a little ashamed of the drug part of their occupation. Their places of business appear to be news-agencies, refreshment parlors, stationery stores—the drugs are "on the side," or rather in the rear. Sometimes, I am told, the proprietors of these places know nothing at all about pharmacy, but employ a prescription clerk who is a capable pharmacist. Here the druggist has stepped down from his former position as the manager of a business and has become a servant. All of which looks to me as if the pharmacist himself might be beginning to accept the valuation that some people are putting upon his services to the community.

Now these things affect me, not as a physician nor as a pharmacist, for I am neither, but they do touch me as a student of physics and chemistry and as one whose business and pleasure it has been for many years to watch the development of these and other sciences. The fact that I am addressing you this evening may be taken, I suppose, as evidence that you may be interested in this point of view. The action of most substances on the human organism is a function of their chemical constitution. Has that chemical constitution changed? It is one of the most astonishing discoveries of our age that many, perhaps all, substances undergo spontaneous disintegration, giving rise to the phenomena now well known as "radio-activity." No substances ordinarily known and used in pharmacy, however, possess this quality in measurable degree, and we have no reason to suppose that the alkaloids, for instance, or the salts of potash or iron, differ today in any respect from those of a century ago. How about the other factor in the reaction—the human organism and its properties? That our bodily properties have changed in the past admits of no doubt. We have developed up to the point where we are at present. Here, however, evolution seems to have left us, and it is now devoting its attention exclusively to our mental and moral progress. Judging from what is now going on upon the continent of Europe, much remains to be accomplished. But there is no reason to believe that if Caesar or Hannibal had taken a dose of opium, or ipecac, or aspirin, the effect would have been different from that experienced today by one of you. This is what a physicist or a chemist would expect. If the action of a drug on the organism is chemical, and if neither the drug nor the organism has changed, the action must be the same. If we still desire to bring about the action and if there is no better way to do it, we must use the drug, and there is still need for the druggist. As a matter of fact, the number of drugs at your disposal today is vastly greater than ever before, largely owing to the labor, and the ingenuity, of the analytical chemist. And there are still great classes of compounds of whose existence the chemist is assured, but which he has not even had time to form, much less to investigate. Among these may lurk remedies more valuable than any at our disposal today. It does not look, at any rate, as if the druggist were going to be driven out of business from lack of stock, whether we regard quantity or variety. To what, then, must we attribute the growth of the feeling that the treatment of disease by the administration of drugs is on the decline? From the standpoint of a layman it seems to be due to two facts, or at least to have been strongly affected by them: (1) The discovery and rapid development of other therapeutic measures, such as those dependent on surgical methods, or on the use of immunizing serums, or on manipulations such as massage, or on diet, or even on mental suggestion; and (2) the very increase in the number and variety of available drugs alluded to above, which has introduced to the public many new and only partially tried substances, the results of whose use has often been unexpectedly injurious, including a considerable number of new habit-forming drugs whose ravages are becoming known to the public.

The development of therapeutic measures that are independent of drugs has been coincident with popular emancipation from the mere superstition of drug-administration. The older lists of approved remedies were loaded with items that had no curative properties at all, except by suggestion. They were purely magical—the thumb-nails of executed criminals, the hair of black cats, the ashes of burned toads and so on. Even at this moment your pharmacopoeia contains scores of remedies that are without effect or that do not produce the effects credited to them. I am relying on high therapeutical authority for this statement. Now when the sick man is told by his own physician to discard angleworm poultices, and herbs plucked in the dark of the moon, on which he had formerly relied, it is any wonder that he has ended by being suspicious also of calomel and ipecac, with which they were formerly classed? And when the man who believed that he received benefit from some of these magical remedies is told that the result was due to auto-suggestion, is it remarkable that he should fall an easy prey next day to the Christian Scientist who tells him that the effects of calomel and ipecac are due to nothing else than this same suggestion? The increased use and undoubted value of special diets, serums, aseptic surgery, baths, massage, electrical treatment, radio-therapeutics, and so on, makes it easy for him to discard drugs altogether, and further, it creates, even among those who continue to use drugs, an atmosphere favorable to the belief that they are back numbers, on the road to disuse. Just here comes in the second factor to persuade the layman, from what has come under his own observation, that drugs are injurious, dangerous, even fatal. Newly discovered chemical compounds with valuable properties, have been adopted and used in medicine before the necessary time had elapsed to disclose the fact that they possessed also other properties, more elusive than the first, but as potent for harm as these were for good. Many were narcotics or valuable anesthetics, local or otherwise, which have proved to be the creators of habits more terrible than the age-long enemies of mankind, alcohol and opium. When the man whose wife takes a coal-tar derivative for headache finds that it stills her heart forever, the incident affects his whole opinion of drugs. When the patient for whom one of the new drugs has been prescribed by a practitioner without knowledge of his idiosyncrasies reacts to it fatally, it is slight consolation to his survivors that his case is described in print under the heading, "A Curious Case of Umptiol Poisoning." When a mother sees her son go to the bad by taking cocaine, or heroin, or some other drug of whose existence she was ignorant a dozen years ago, she may be pardoned for believing that all drugs, or at least all newly discovered drugs, are tools of the devil.

And this feeling is intensified by one of our national faults—the tendency to jump at conclusions, to overdo things, to run from one evil to its opposite, without stopping at the harmless mean. We think we are brighter and quicker than the Englishman or the German. They think we are more superficial. Whatever name you give the quality it causes us to "catch on" sooner, to work a good thing to death more thoroughly and to drop it more quickly for something else, than any other known people, ancient or modern. Somebody devises a new form of skate roller that makes roller-skating a good sport. We find it out before anyone else and in a few months the land is plastered from Maine to California with huge skating halls or sheds. Everybody is skating at once and the roar of the rollers resounds across the oceans. We skate ourselves out in a year or two, and then the roar ceases, the sheds decay and roller-skating is once more a normal amusement. Then someone invents the safety bicycle, and in a trice all America, man, woman and child, is awheel. And we run this good horse to death, and throw his body aside in our haste to discover something new. Shortly afterward someone invents a new dance, or imports it from Spanish America, and there is hardly time to snap one's finger before we are all dancing, grandparents and children, the cook in the kitchen and the street-cleaner on the boulevard.

We display as little moderation in our therapeutics. We can not get over the idea that a remedy of proved value in a particular case may be good for all others. Our proprietary medicines will cure everything from tuberculosis to cancer. If massage has relieved rheumatism, why should it not be good also for typhoid? The Tumtum Springs did my uncle's gout so much good; why doesn't your cousin try them for her headaches? And even so, drugs must be all good or bad. Many of us remember the old household remedies, tonics or laxatives or what not, with which the children were all dosed at intervals, whether they were ill or not. That was in the days when all drugs were good: when one "took something" internally for everything that happened to him. Now the pendulum has swung to the other side—that is all. If we can ever settle down to the rational way of regarding these things, we shall discover, what sensible medical men have always known, and what druggists as well as mere laymen can not afford to neglect, that there is no such thing as a panacea, and that all rational therapeutics is based on common sense study of the disease—finding out what is the cause and endeavoring to abate that cause. The cause may be such that surgery is indicated, or serum, or regulation of diet, or change of scene. It may obviously indicate the administration of a drug. I once heard a clever lawyer in a poisoning case, in an endeavor to discredit a physician, whom we shall call Dr. Jones, tell the following anecdote: (Dr. Jones, who had been called in when the victim was about to expire, had recommended the application of ice). Said the lawyer:

"A workman was tamping a charge of blasting-powder with a crowbar, when the charge went off prematurely and the bar was driven through the unfortunate man's body, so that part of it protruded on either side: A local physician was summoned, and after some study he pronounced as follows: 'Now, if I let that bar stay there, you'll die. If I pull it out, you'll die. But I'll give you a pill that may melt it where it is!' In this emergency," the lawyer went on to say, "Dr. Jones doubtless would have prescribed ice."

Now the pill to melt the crowbar may stand for our former excessive and absurd regard for drugs. The application of ice in the same emergency may likewise represent a universal resort to hydrotherapy. Neither of them is logical. There is place for each, but there are emergencies that can not be met with either. Still, to abandon one method of treatment simply because additional methods have proved to be valuable, would be as absurd as to give up talking upon the invention of writing or to prohibit the raising of corn on land that will produce wheat.

No: we shall doubtless continue to use drugs and we shall continue to need the druggist. What can he do to make his business more valued and respected, more useful to the public and more profitable to himself? For there can be no doubt that he will finally succeed in attaining all these desirable results together, or fail in all. Here and there we may find a man who is making a fortune out of public credulity and ignorance, or, on the other hand, one who is giving the public more service than it pays for and ruining himself in the process; but in general and on the average personal and public interest run pretty well hand in hand. Henry Ford makes his millions because he is producing something that the people want. St. Jacob's Oil, once the most widely advertised nostrum on the continent, cost its promoters a fortune because there was nothing in it that one might not find in some other oil or grease.

What then, I repeat, must the pharmacist do to succeed, personally and professionally? I welcome this opportunity to tell you what I think. My advice comes from the outside—often the most valuable source. I have so little to do with pharmacy, either as a profession or as a business that I stand far enough away to get a bird's-eye view. And if you think that any advice, based on this view, is worthless, it will be a consolation to all of us to realize that no force on earth can compel you to take it.

It is doubtless too late to lament or try to resist the course of business that has gone far to turn the pharmacy into a department store. But let me urge you not to let this tendency run wild. There are side-lines that belong properly to pharmacy, such as all those pertaining to hygiene or sanitation; to the toilet, to bodily refreshment. I do not see why one should not expect to find at his pharmacist's, soap, or tooth-brushes, or sponges. I do not see why the thirsty man should not go there for mineral water as well as the dyspeptic for pills. But I fail to see the connection between pharmacy and magazines, or stationery or candy. By selling these the druggist puts himself at once into competition with the department stores. There can be no doubt about who will win out in any such competition as that. But I believe there is still a place in the community for any special line of business if its proprietor sticks to his specialty and makes himself a recognized expert in it. The department store spreads itself too thin—there is no room for intensive development at any point of its vast expanse. Its general success is due to this very fact. I am not now speaking of the rural community where there is room only for one general store selling everything that the community needs. But my statement holds good for the city and the large town.

Let me illustrate by an instance in which we librarians are professionally interested—the book store. Once every town had its book-store. Now they are rare. We have few such stores even in a city of the size of St. Louis. Every department store has its book-section. They are rarely satisfactory. Everybody is lamenting the disappearance of the old book-store, with its old scholarly proprietor who knew books and the book-market; who loved books and the book-business. Quarts of ink have been wasted in trying to account for his disappearance. The Public Library, for one thing, has been blamed for it. I have no time now to disprove this, though it is very clear to me that libraries help the book trade instead of hindering it. I shall simply give you my version of the trouble. The book-dealer disappeared, as soon as he entered into competition with the department store. He put in side lines of toys, and art supplies, and cameras and candy. He began to spread himself thin and had no time for expert concentration on his one specialty. Thus he lost his one advantage over the department store—his strength in the region where it was weak; and of course he succumbed. If you will think for a moment of the special businesses that have survived the competition of the department store, you will see that they are precisely the ones that have resisted this temptation to spread themselves and have been content to remain experts. Look at the men's furnishing stores. Would they have survived if they had begun to sell cigars and lawn-mowers? Look at the retail shoe stores, the opticians, the cigar stores, the bakers, the meat markets, the confectioners, the restaurants of all grades! They have all to compete with the department stores, but their customers realize that they have something to offer that can be offered by no department store—expert service in one line, due to some one's life-long training, experience and devotion to the public.

I do not want the pharmacist to go the way of the book dealers. Already some of the department stores include drug departments. I do not see how these can be as good as independent pharmacies. But I do not see the essential difference between a drug department in a store that sells also cigars and stationery and confectionery, and a so-called independent pharmacy that also distributes these very things.

I am assuming that the druggist is an expert. That is the object of our colleges of pharmacy, as I understand the matter. As a librarian I want to deal with a book man who knows more of the book business than I do. I want to ask his advice and be able to rely on it. When I have printing to be done, I like to give it to a man who knows more about the printed page than I do. When I buy bread, or shoes, or a house, or a farm I like to deal with recognized experts in these articles. How much more when I am purchasing substances where expert knowledge will turn the balance between life and death. I have gossiped with pharmacists enough to know that all physicians do not avoid incompatibles in their prescriptions, and that occasionally a combination falls into the prescription clerk's hands, which, if made up as he reads it would produce a poisonous compound, or perhaps even an explosive mixture. Two heads are better than one, and if my physician ever makes a mistake of this kind I look to my pharmacist to see that it shall not reach the practical stage.

I recognize the great value and service of the department store, but I do not go there for my law or medicine; neither do I care to resort thither for my pharmacy. I want our separate drug stores to persist, and I want them to remain in charge of experts.

And when the store deals in other things than purely therapeutic preparations—which I have already said I think probably unavoidable,—I want it to present the aspect of a pharmacy that deals also in toilet preparations and mineral water, not of an establishment for dispensing soda-water and soap, where one may have a prescription filled on the side, in an emergency. And when the emergency does arise, I should have the pharmacy respond to it. It is the place where we naturally look in an emergency—the spot to which the victim of an accident is carried directly—the one where the lady bends her steps when she feels that she is going to faint. In hundreds of cases the drug store is our only standby, and it should be the druggist's business to see that it never fails us. There are pharmacies where a telephone message brings an unfailing response; there are others to which one would as soon think of sending an inquiry regarding a Biblical quotation. To which type, do you think, will the public prefer to resort?

Then there are those little courtesies that no retail business is obliged to offer, but that the public has been accustomed to expect from the druggist—the cashing of checks, the changing of bills, the furnishing of postage stamps, the consultation of the city directory. There can be no reason for resorting to a drug store for all these favors except that the pharmacist has an enviable reputation as the man who is most likely to grant them. And yet I begin to hear druggists complaining of the results of this reputation, of which they ought to be proud; I see them pointing out that there is no profit on postage stamps and no commission for changing a bill. They intimate, further, that although it may be proper for them to put themselves out for regular customers, it is absurd for strangers to ask for these courtesies. I marvel when I hear these sentiments. If this popular impression regarding the courtesy of the druggist did not exist, it would be worth the expenditure of vast sums and the labor of a lifetime to create it. To deliberately undo it would be as foolish as to lock the door in the face of customers.

I do not believe that in St. Louis the pharmaceutical profession is generally averse to a reputation for generous public service, and I base my belief on some degree of personal knowledge. The St. Louis Public Library operates about sixty delivery stations in various parts of the city. These stations are all in drug stores. The work connected with them, though light, is by no means inconsiderable, and yet not one of the druggists who undertake it charges the library a cent for his space or his services. Doubtless they expect a return from the increased attractiveness of their places to the public. I hope that they get it and I believe that they do. At any rate we have evidence here of the pharmacist's belief that the bread of public service, cast upon the waters, will sooner or later return.

You will notice that I am saying nothing about advertising. One would think from the pharmaceutical papers, with which I am not unfamiliar, that the druggist's chief end was to have a sensational show window of some kind. These things are not unimportant, but I do not dwell on them because I believe that if a druggist realizes the importance of his profession; if he makes himself a recognized expert in it; if he sticks to it and magnifies it; if he makes his place indispensable to the community around him, the first point to which the citizens resort for help in an emergency, an unfailing center of courtesy and favor—he may fill his window with toilet soap, or monkeys, or with nothing at all—there will still be a trodden path up to his door.

Gentlemen, you have chosen as your life work a profession that I believe to be indispensable to human welfare—one of enviable tradition and honor and with standing and reputation in the community that set it apart, in some degree from all others. And while I would not have you neglect the material success that it may bring you, I would urge you to expect this as a result rather than strive for it as an immediate end. I would have you labor to maintain and develop the special knowledge that you have gained in this institution, to hold up the standard of courtesy and helpfulness under which you can best do public service, confident that if you do these things, business standing and financial success will also be added unto you.



HOW THE COMMUNITY EDUCATES ITSELF[15]

[15] Read before the American Library Association, Asbury Park, N.J., June 27, 1916.

In endeavoring to distinguish between self-education and education by others, one meets with considerable difficulty. If a boy reads Mill's "Political Economy'" he is surely educating himself; but if after reading each chapter he visits a class and answers certain questions propounded for the purpose of ascertaining whether he has read it at all, or has read it understandingly, then we are accustomed to transfer the credit for the educative process to the questioner, and say that the boy has been educated at school or college. As a matter of fact, I think most of us are self-educated. Not only is most of what an adult knows and can do, acquired outside of school, but in most of what he learned even there he was self-taught. His so-called teachers assigned tasks to him and saw that he performed them. If he did not, they subjected him to discipline. Once or twice in a lifetime most of us have run up against a real teacher—a man or a woman that really played a major part in shaping our minds as they now are—our stock of knowledge, our ways of thought, our methods of doing things. These men have stood and are still standing (though they may have joined the great majority long ago) athwart the stream of sensation as it passes through us, and are determining what part shall be stored up, and where; what kind of action shall ultimately result from it. The influence of a good teacher spreads farther and lasts longer than that of any other man. If his words have been recorded in books it may reach across the seas and down the ages.

There is another reason why the distinction between school education and self-education breaks down. If the boy with whom we began had any teacher at all it was John Stuart Mill, and this man was his teacher whether or not his reading of the book was prescribed and tested in a class-room. I would not have you think that I would abolish schools and colleges. I wish we had more of the right kind, but the chief factor in educative acquirement will still be the pupil.

So when the community educates itself, as it doubtless does and as it must do, it simply continues a process with which it has always been familiar, but without control, or under its own control. Of all the things that we learn, control is the most vital. What we are is the sum of those things that we do not repress. We begin without self-repression and have to be controlled by others. When we learn to exercise control ourselves, it is right that even our education should revert wholly to what it has long been in greater part—a voluntary process.

This does not mean that at this time the pupil abandons guidance. It means that he is free to choose his own guides and the place and method of using them. Some rely wholly on experience; others are wise enough to see that life is too short and too narrow to acquire all that we need, and they set about to make use also of that acquired by others. Some of these wiser ones use only their companions and acquaintances; others read books. The wisest are opportunists; they make use of all these methods as they have occasion. Their reading does not make them avoid the exchange of ideas by conversation, nor does the acquirement of ideas in either way preclude learning daily by experience, or make reflection useless or unnecessary.

He who lives a full life acquires ideas as he may, causes them to combine, change and generate in his own mind, and then translates them into action of some kind. He who omits any of these things cannot be said to have really lived. He cannot, it is true, fail to acquire ideas unless he is an idiot; but he may fail to acquire them broadly, and may even make the mistake of thinking that he can create them in his own mind.

He may, however, acquire fully and then merely store without change or combination; that is, he may turn his brain into a warehouse instead of using it as a factory.

And the man who has acquired broadly and worked over his raw material into a product of his own, may still stop there and never do anything. Our whole organism is subsidiary to action and he who stops short of it has surely failed to live.

Our educative processes, so far, have dwelt heavily on acquirement, somewhat lightly on mental assimilation and digestion, and have left action almost untouched. In these two latter respects, especially, is the community self-educated.

The fact that I am saying this here, and to you, is a sufficient guaranty that I am to lay some emphasis on the part played by books in these self-educative processes. A book is at once a carrier and a tool; it transports the idea and plants it. It is a carrier both in time and in space—the idea that it implants may be a foreign idea, or an ancient idea, or both. Either of its functions may for the moment be paramount; a book may bring to you ideas whose implantation your brain resists, or it may be used to implant ideas that are already present, as when an instructor uses his own text book. Neither of these two cases represents education in the fullest sense.

You will notice that I have not yet defined education. I do not intend to try, for my time is limited. But in the course of my own educative processes, which I trust are still proceeding, the tendency grows stronger and stronger to insist on an intimate connection with reality in all education—to making it a realization that we are to do something and a yearning to be able to do it. The man who has never run up against things as they are, who has lived in a world of moonshine, who sees crooked and attempts what is impossible and what is useless—is he educated? I used to wonder what a realist was. Now that I am becoming one myself I begin dimly to understand. He certainly is not a man devoid of ideals, but they are real ideals, if you will pardon the bull.

I believe that I am in goodly company. The library as I see it has also set its face toward the real. What else is meant by our business branches, our technology rooms, our legislative and municipal reference departments? They mean that slow as we may be to respond to community thought and to do our part in carrying on community education, we are vastly more sensitive than the school, which still turns up its nose at efforts like the Gary system; than the stage, which still teaches its actors to be stagy instead of natural; even than the producers of the very literature that we help to circulate, who rarely know how even to represent the conversation of two human beings as it really is. And when a great new vehicle of popular artistic expression arises, like the moving picture, those who purvey it spend their millions to build mock cities instead of to reproduce the reality that it is their special privilege to be able to show. And they hire stage actors to show off their staginess on the screen—staginess that is a thousand times more stagy because its background is of waving foliage and glimmering water, instead of the painted canvas in front of which it belongs. The heart of the community is right. Its heroine is Mary Pickford. It rises to realism as one man. The little dog who cannot pose, and who pants and wags his tail on the screen as he would anywhere else, elicits thunderous applause. The baby who puckers up its face and cries, oblivious of its environment, is always a favorite. But the trend of all this, these institutions cannot see. We librarians are seeing it a little more clearly. We may see it—we shall see it, more clearly still.

The self-education of a community often depends very closely on bonds of connection already established between the minds of that community's individual members. Sometimes it depends on a sudden connection made through the agency of a single event of overwhelming importance and interest. Let me illustrate what I mean by connection of this kind. For many years it was my duty to cross the Hudson river twice daily on a crowded ferry-boat, and it used to interest me to watch the behavior of the crowds under the influence of simple impulses affecting them all alike. I am happy to say that I never had an opportunity of observing the effect of complex impulses such as those of panic terror. I used particularly to watch, from the vantage point of a stairway whence I could look over their heads, the behavior of the crowd standing in the cabin just before the boat made its landing. Each person in the crowd stood still quietly, and the tendency was toward a loose formation to ensure comfort and some freedom of movement. At the same time each was ready and anxious to move forward as soon as the landing should be made. Only those in front could see the bow of the ferryboat; the others could see nothing but the persons directly in front of them. When those in the front rank saw that the landing was very near they began to move forward; those just behind followed suit and so on to the rear. The result was that I saw a wave of compression, of the same sort as a sound-wave in air, move through the throng. The individual motions were forward but the wave moved backward. No better example of a wave of this kind could be devised. Now the actions and reactions between the air-particles in a sound wave are purely mechanical. Not so here. There was neither pushing nor pulling of the ordinary kind. Each person moved forward because his mind was fixed on moving forward at the earliest opportunity, and because the forward movement of those just in front showed him that now was the time and the opportunity. The physical link, if there was one, properly speaking, between one movement and another was something like this: A wave of light, reflected from the body of the man in front, entered the eye of the man just behind, where it was transformed into a nerve impulse that readied the brain through the optic nerve. Here it underwent complicated transformations and reactions whose nature we can but surmise, until it left the brain as a motor impulse and caused the leg muscles to contract, moving their owner forward. All this may or may not have taken place within the sphere of consciousness; in the most cases it had happened so often that it had been relegated to that of unconscious cerebration.

I have entered into so much detail because I want to make it clear that a connection may be established between members of a group, even so casual a group as that of persons who happen to cross on the same ferry boat, that is so real and compelling, that its results simulate those of physical forces. In thin case the results were dependent on the existence in the crowd of one common bond of interest. They all wanted to leave the ferry boat as soon as possible, and by its bow. If some of them had wanted to stay on the boat and go back with it, or if it had been a river steamboat where landings were made from several gangways in different parts of the boat the simple wave of compression that I saw would not have been set up. In like manner the ordinary influences that act on men's minds tend in all sorts of directions and their results are not easily traced. Occasionally, however, there occurs some event so great that it turns us all in the same direction and establishes a common network of psychical connections. Such an event fosters community education.

We have lately witnessed such a phenomenon in the sudden outbreak of the great European War. Probably no person in the community as we librarians know it remained unaffected by this event. In most it aroused some kind of a desire to know what was going on. It was necessary that most of us should know a little more than we did of the differences in racial temperament and aim among the inhabitants of the warring nations, of such movements as Pan-Slavism and Pan-Germanism, of the recent political history of Europe, of modern military tactics and strategy, of international law, of geography, of the pronunciation of foreign placenames, of the chemistry of explosives—of a thousand things regarding which we had hitherto lacked the impulse to inform ourselves. This sort of thing is going on in a community every day, but here was a catastrophe setting in motion a mighty brain-wave that had twisted us all in one direction. Notice now what a conspicuous role our public libraries play in phenomena of this kind. In the first place, the news-paper and periodical press reflects at once the interest that has been aroused. Where man's unaided curiosity would suggest one question it adds a hundred others. Problems that would otherwise seem simple enough now appear complex—the whole mental interest is intensified. At the same time there is an attempt to satisfy the questions thus raised. The man who did not know about the Belgian treaty, or the possible use of submarines as commerce-destroyers, has all the issues put before him with at least an attempt to settle them. This service of the press to community education would be attempted, but it would not be successfully rendered, without the aid of the public library, for it has come to pass that the library is now almost the only non-partisan institution that we possess; and community education, to be effective, must be non-partisan. The press is almost necessarily biassed. The man who is prejudiced prefers the paper or the magazine that will cater to his prejudices, inflame them, cause him to think that they are reasoned results instead of prejudices. If he keeps away from the public library he may succeed in blinding himself; if he uses it he can hardly do so. He will find there not only his own side but all the others; if he has the ordinary curiosity that is our mortal heritage he cannot help glancing at the opinions of others occasionally. No man is really educated who does not at least know that another side exists to the question on which he has already made up his mind—or had it made up for him.

Further, no one is content to stop with the ordinary periodical literature. The flood of books inspired by this war is one of the most astonishing things about it. Most libraries are struggling to keep up with it in some degree. Very few of these books would be within the reach of most of us were it not for the library.

I beg you to notice the difference in the reaction of the library to this war and that of the public school as indicative of the difference between formal educative processes, as we carry them on, and the self-education of the community. I have emphasized the freedom of the library from bias. The school is necessarily biassed—perhaps properly so. You remember the story of the candidate for a district school who, when asked by an examining committee-man whether the earth was round or flat, replied, "Well, some says one and some t'other. I teach either round or flat, as the parents wish."

Now, there are books that maintain the flatness of the earth, and they properly find a place on the shelves of large public libraries. Those who wish to compare the arguments pro and con are at liberty to do so. Even in such a res adjudicata as this the library takes no sides. But in spite of the obliging school candidate, the school cannot proceed in this way. The teaching of the child must be definite. And there are other subjects, historical ones for instance, in which the school's attitude may be determined by its location, its environment, its management. When it is a public school and its controlling authority is really trying to give impartial instruction there are some subjects that must simply be skipped, leaving them to be covered by post-scholastic community education. This is the school's limitation. Only the policy of caution is very apt to be carried too far. Thus we find that in the school the immense educational drive of the European War has not been utilized as it has in the community at large. In some places the school authorities have erected a barrier against it. So far as they are concerned the war has been non-existent. This difference between the library and the school appears in such reports as the following from a branch librarian:

"Throughout the autumn and most of the winter we found it absolutely impossible to supply the demand for books about the war. Everything we had on the subject or akin to it—books, magazines, pamphlets—were in constant use. Books of travel and history about the warring countries became popular—things that for years had been used but rarely became suddenly vitally interesting.

"I have been greatly interested by the fact that the high school boys and girls never ask for anything about the war. Not once during the winter have I seen in one of them a spark of interest in the subject. It seems so strange that it should be necessary to keep them officially ignorant of this great war because the grandfather of one spoke French and of another German."

Another librarian says:

"The war again has naturally stimulated an interest in maps. With every turn in military affairs, new ones are issued and added to our collection. These maps, as received, have been exhibited for short periods upon screens and they have never lacked an appreciative line of spectators, representing all nationalities."

One noticeable effect of the war in libraries has been to stimulate the marking of books, periodicals and newspapers by readers, especially in periodical rooms. Readers with strong feelings cannot resist annotating articles or chapters that express opinions in which they cannot concur. Pictures of generals or royalties are especially liable to defacement with opprobrious epithets. This feeling extends even to bulletins. Libraries receive strenuous protests against the display of portraits and other material relating to one of the contesting parties without similar material on the other side to offset it.

"Efforts to be strictly neutral have not always met with success, some readers apparently regarding neutrality as synonymous with suppression of everything favorable to the opposite side. One library reports that the display of an English military portrait called forth an energetic protest because it was not balanced by a German one."

Such manifestations as these are merely symptoms. The impulse of the war toward community education is a tremendous one and it is not strange that it should find an outlet in all sorts of odd ways. The German sympathizer who would not ordinarily think of objecting to the display of an English portrait, and in fact would probably not think of examining it closely enough to know whether it was English or Austrian, has now become alert. His alertness makes him open to educative influences, but it may also show itself in such ways as that just noted.

Keeping the war out of the schools is of course a purely local phenomenon, to be deprecated where it occurs. The library can do its part here also.

"G. Stanley Hall believes that the problem of teaching the war is how to utilize in the very best way the wonderful opportunity to open, see and feel the innumerable and vital lessons involved." Commenting on this a children's librarian says: "The unparalleled opportunity offered to our country, and the new complex problems presented by these new conditions should make the children's librarian pause and take heed.

"Can we do our part toward using the boy's loyalty to his gang or his nine, his love of his country, his respect for our flag, his devotion to our heroes, in developing a sense of human brotherhood which alone can prevent or delay in the next generation another such catastrophe as the one we face to-day?"

Exclusion of the war from the schools is partly the outcome of the general attitude of most of our schoolmen, who object to the teaching of a subject as an incidental. Arithmetic must be studied for itself alone. To absorb it as a by-product of shop-work, as is done in Gary, is inadmissible. But it is also a result of the fear that teaching the war at all would necessarily mean a partisan teaching of it—a conclusion which perhaps we cannot condemn when we remember the partisan instruction in various other subjects for which our schools are responsible.

Again, this exclusion is doubtless aided by the efforts of some pacifists, who believe that, ostrich-like, we should hide our heads in the sand, to avoid acknowledging the existence of something we do not like. "Why war?" asks a recent pamphlet. Why, indeed? But we may ask in turn "Why fire?" "Why flood?" I cannot answer these questions, but it would be foolish to act as if the scourges did not exist. Nay, I hasten to insure myself against them, though the possibility that they will injure me is remote. This ultra-pacifist attitude has gone further than school education and is trying to put the lid on community education also. Objection, for instance, has been made to an exhibit of books, prints and posters about the war, which was displayed in the St. Louis Public Library for nearly two months. We intended to let it stand for about a week, but the public would not allow this. The community insists on self-education even against the will of its natural allies. The contention that we are cultivating the innate blood-thirstiness of our public, I regard as absurd.

What can we do toward generating or taking advantage of other great driving impulses toward community education? Must we wait for the horrors of a great war to teach us geography, industrial chemistry and international law? Is it necessary to burn down a house every time we want to roast a pig? Certainly not. But just as one would not think of bringing on any kind of a catastrophe in order to utilize its shock for educational purposes, so also I doubt very much whether we need concern ourselves about the initiation of any impulse toward popular education. These impulses exist everywhere in great number and variety and we need only to select the right one and reinforce it. Attempts to generate others are rarely effective. When we hear the rich mellow tone of a great organ pipe, it is difficult to realize that all the pipe does is to reinforce a selected tone among thousands of indistinguishable noises made by the air rushing through a slit and striking against an edge. Yet this is the fact. These incipient impulses permeate the community all about us; all we have to do is to select one, feed it and give it play and we shall have an "educational movement." This fact is strongly impressed upon anyone working with clubs. If it is desired to foster some movement by means of an organization, it is rarely necessary to form one for the purpose. Every community teems with clubs, associations and circles. All that is needed is to capture the right one and back it up. Politicians well understand this art of capture and use it often for evil purposes. In the librarian's hands it becomes an instrument for good. Better than to offer a course of twenty lectures under the auspices of the library is it to capture a club, give it house-room, and help it with its program. I am proud of the fact that in fifteen public rooms in our library, about four thousand meetings are held in the course of the year; but I am inclined to be still prouder of the fact that not one of these is held formally under the auspices of the library or is visibly patronized by it. To go back to our thesis, all education is self-education; we can only select, guide and strengthen, but when we have done these things adequately, we have done a very great work indeed.

What is true of assemblies and clubs is also true of the selection and use of books. A book purchased in response to a demand is worth a dozen bought because the librarian thinks the library ought to have them. The possibilities of free suggestion by the community are, it seems to me, far from realized, yet even as it is, I believe that librarians have an unexampled opportunity of feeling out promising tendencies in this great flutter of educational impulses all about us, and so of selecting the right ones and helping them on.

Almost while I have been writing this I have been visited by a delegate from the foundrymen's club—an organization that wants more books on foundry practice and wants them placed together in a convenient spot. Such a visit is of course a heaven-sent opportunity and I suppose I betrayed something of my pleasure in my manner. My visitor said, "I am so glad you feel this way about it; we have been meaning for some time to call on you, but we were in doubt about how we should be received." Such moments are humiliating to the librarian. Great heavens! Have we advertised, discussed, talked and plastered our towns with publicity, only to learn at last that the spokesman of a body of respectable men, asking legitimate service, rather expects to be kicked downstairs than otherwise when he approaches us? Is our publicity failing in quantity or in quality?

Whatever may be the matter, it is in response to demands like this that the library must play its part in community education. Here as elsewhere it is the foundrymen who are the important factors—their attitude, their desires, their capabilities. Our function is that of the organ pipe—to pick out the impulse, respond to it and give it volume and carrying power. The community will educate itself whether we help or not. It is permeated by lines of intelligence as the magnetic field is by lines of force. Thrust in a bit of soft iron and the force-lines will change their direction in order to pass through the iron. Thrust a book into the community field, and its lines of intelligence will change direction in order to take in the contents of the book. If we could map out the field we should see great masses of lines sweeping through our public libraries.

All about us we see men who tell us that they despair of democracy; that at any rate, whatever its advantages, democracy can never be "efficient." Efficient for what? Efficiency is a relative quality, not absolute. A big German howitzer would be about as inefficient a tool as could be imagined, for serving an apple-pie. Beside, democracy is a goal; we have not reached it yet; we shall never reach it if we decide that it is undesirable. The path toward it is the path of Nature, which leads through conflicts, survivals, and modifications. Part of it is the path of community education, which I believe to be efficient in that it is leading on toward a definite goal. Part of Nature is man, with his desires, hopes and abilities. Some men, and many women, are librarians, in whom these desires and hopes have definite aims and in whom the corresponding abilities are more or less developed. We are all thus cogs in Nature's great scheme for community education; let us be intelligent cogs, and help the movement on instead of hindering it.



CLUBWOMEN'S READING

I—The Malady

A well-dressed woman entered the Art Department of a large public library. "Have you any material on the Medici?" she asked the custodian. "Yes; just what kind of material do you want?" "Stop a minute," cried the woman, extending a detaining hand; "before you get me anything, just tell me what they are!" Librarians are trained not to laugh. No one could have detected the ghost of a smile on this one's face as she lifted the "M" volume of a cyclopedia from a shelf and placed it on the table before the seeker after knowledge. "There; that will tell you," she said, and returned to her work.

Not long afterward she was summoned by a beckoning finger. "I can't tell from this book," said the perplexed student, "whether the Medici were a family or a race of people." The Art Librarian tried to untie this knot, but it was not long before another presented itself. "This book doesn't explain," said the troubled investigator, "whether the Medici were Florentines or Italians." Still without a quiver, the art assistant emitted the required drop of information. "Shan't I get you something more now?" she asked. "Oh, no; this will be quite sufficient," and taking out pencil and paper the inquirer began to write rapidly with the cyclopedia propped before her. Presently, when the Art Librarian looked up, her guest had disappeared. But she was on hand the next morning. "May I see that book again?" she asked sweetly. "There are some words here in my copy that I can't quite make out."

On another occasion a reader, of the same sex, wandered into the reading-room and began to gaze about her with that peculiar sort of perplexed aimlessness that librarians have come to recognise instinctively as an index to the wearer's state of mind. "Have you anything on American travels?" she asked.

"Do you mean travels in America, or travels by Americans in foreign countries?"

"Well; I don't know—exactly."

"Do you want books like Dickens's American Notes, that give a foreigner's impression of this country?"

"Ye-es—possibly."

"Or books like Hawthorne's Note Book, telling how a foreign country appears to an American?"

"We-ell; perhaps."

"Are you following a programme of reading?"

"Yes."

"May I see it? That may give me a clue."

"I haven't a copy here."

"Can you give me the name of the person or committee who made it?"

"Oh, I made it myself."

This was a "facer"; the librarian seemed to have brought up against a stone wall, but she waited, knowing that a situation, unlike a knot, will sometimes untie itself.

The seeker after knowledge also waited for a time. Then she broke out animatedly:

"Why, I just wanted American travels, don't you know? Funny little stories and things about the sort of Americans that go abroad with a bird-cage!"

Just what books were given to her I do not know; but in due time her interesting paper before the Olla Podrida Club was properly noticed in the local papers.

In another case a perplexed club-woman came to a library for aid in making a programme of reading. "Have you some ideas about the subject you want to take up?" asked the reference assistant.

"Well, we had thought of England, or perhaps Scotland; and some of us would like the Elizabethan Period."

The assistant, after some faithful work, produced a list of books and articles on each of these somewhat comprehensive subjects and sent them to the reader for selection. "Which did you finally take?" she asked when the inquirer next visited the library.

"Oh, they were so good, we decided to use all of them this year!"

The writer is no pessimist. These stories which are as true, word for word, as any tales not taken down by a stenographer (and far more so than some that are) seemed to throw the persons who told them into a sort of dumb despair, but I hastened to reassure them. I pointed out that the inquirers after knowledge had, beyond all doubt, obtained some modicum of what they wanted. If the lady in the first tale, for instance, had mistakenly supposed that the Medici were a new kind of dance or something to eat, she surely has been disabused. And her cyclopedia article was probably as well written as most of its kind, so that a literal transcript of it could have done no harm either to the copyist or to her clubmates. And the paper on "American Travels," and the combined lists on England, Scotland and the Elizabethan Period; did not those who laboured on them, or with them, acquire information in the process? Most assuredly!

Still, I must confess that, in advancing these arguments, I feel somewhat like an advocatus diaboli. It is all very well to treat the puzzled clubwoman as a joke. When a man slips on a banana-peel and goes down, we may laugh at his plight; but suppose the whole crowd of passers-by began to pitch and slide and tumble! Should we not think that some horrible epidemic had laid its hand on us? The ladies with their Medici and their Travels are not isolated instances. Ask the librarians; they know, but in countless instances they do not tell, for fear of casting ridicule upon the hundreds of intelligent clubwomen whom they are proud to help. In many libraries there is a standing rule against repeating or discussing the errors and slips of the public, especially to the ever hungry reporter. I break this rule here with equanimity, and even with a certain degree of hope, for my object is to awaken my readers to the knowledge that part of the reading public is suffering from a malady of some kind. Later I may try my hand at diagnosis and even at therapeutics. And I am taking as an illustration chiefly the reading done by women's clubs, not because men do not do reading of the same kind, or because it is not done by individuals as well as by groups; but because, just at the present time, women in general, and clubwomen in particular, seem especially likely to be attacked by the disease. It must be remembered also that I am writing from the standpoint of the public library, and I here make humble acknowledgement of the fact that many things in the educational field, both good and bad, go on quite outside of that institution and beyond its ken.

The intellectual bonds between the library and the woman's club have always been close. Many libraries are the children of such clubs; many clubs have been formed in and by libraries. If any mistakes are being made in the general policies and programmes of club reading, the librarian would naturally be the first to know it, and he ought to speak out. He does know it, and his knowledge should become public property at once. But, I repeat, although the trouble is conspicuous in connection with the reading of women's clubs, it is far more general and deeply rooted than this.

The malady's chief symptom, which is well known to all librarians, is a lack of correspondence between certain readers and the books that they choose. Reading, like conversation, is the meeting of two minds. If there is no contact, the process fails. If the cogs on the gearwheels do not interact, the machine can not work. If the reader of a book on algebra does not understand arithmetic; if he tackles a philosophical essay on the representative function without knowing what the phrase means; if he tries to read a French book without knowing the language, his mind is not fitted for contact with that of the writer, and the mental machinery will not move.

In the early days of the Open Shelf, before librarians had realised the necessity of copious assignments to "floor duty," and before there were children's librarians, I saw in a branch library a small child staggering under the weight of a volume of Schaff's History of the Christian Church, which he had taken from the shelves and was presenting at the desk to be charged. "You are not going to read that, are you?" said the desk assistant.

"It isn't for me; it's for me big brudder."

"What did your big brother ask you to get?"

"Oh, a Physiology!"

Nowadays, our well-organised children's rooms make such an occurrence doubtful with the little ones, but apparently there is much of it with adults.

Too much of our reading—I should rather say our attempts at reading—is of this character. Such attempts are the result of a tendency to regard the printed page as a fetich—to think that if one knows his alphabet and can call the printed words one after another as his eye runs along the line, some unexplained good will result, or at least that he has performed a praiseworthy act, has "accumulated merit" somehow or somewhere, like a Thibetan with his prayer-wheel.

It is probably a fact that if a man should meet you in the street and say, "In beatific repentance lies jejune responsibility," you would stare at him and pass him by, or perhaps flee from him as from a lunatic; whereas if you saw these words printed in a book you might gravely study them to ascertain their meaning, or still worse, might succeed in reading your own meaning into them. The words I have strung together happen to have no meaning, but the result would be the same if they meant something that was hidden from the reader by his inability to understand them, no matter what the cause of that inability might be.

This malady is doubtless spontaneous in some degree, and dependent on failings of the human mind that we need not discuss here, but there are signs that it is being fostered, spread, and made more acute by special influences. Probably our educational methods are not altogether blameless. The boy who trustfully approached a Reference Librarian and said, "I have to write a composition on what I saw between home and school; have you got a book about that?" had doubtless been taught that he must look in a book for everything. The conscientious teacher who was now trying to separate him from his notion may have been the very one who, perhaps unconsciously, had instilled it; if so, her fault had thus returned to plague her.

The boy or girl who comes to attach a sacredness or a wizardry to the book in itself will naturally believe, after a little, that whether he understands what is in it matters little—and this is the malady of which we have been complaining.

A college teacher of the differential calculus, in a time now happily long past, when a pupil timidly inquired the reason for this or that, was wont to fix the interrogator with his eye and say, "Sir; it is so because the book says so!" Even in more recent days a well-known university teacher, accustomed to use his own text-book, used to say when a student had ventured to vary its classic phraseology, "It can not be expressed better than in the words of the book!?" These instances, of course, are taken from the dark ages of education, but even to-day I believe that a false idea of the value of a printed page merely as print—not as the record of a mind, ready to make contact with the mind of a reader—has impressed itself too deeply on the brains of many children at an age when such impressions are apt to be durable. Not that the schools are especially at fault; we have all played our part in this unfortunate business. It might all fade, at length; we all know that many good teachings of our childhood do vanish; why should not the bad ones occasionally follow suit?

But now come in all the well-meaning instructors of the adult—the Chautauquans, the educational extensionists, the lecturers, the correspondence schools, the advisers of reading, the makers of booklists, the devisers of "courses." They deepen the fleeting impression and increase its capacity for harm, while varying slightly the mechanism that produced it. As the child grows into a man, his childish idea that a book will produce a certain effect independently of what it contains is apt to yield a little to reason. The new influences, some of which I have named above, do not attempt directly to combat this dawning intelligence; they utilise it to complete the mental discomfiture of their victims. They admit the necessity of comprehending the contents of the book, but they persuade the reader that such comprehension is easier than it really is. And they often administer specially concocted tabloids that convince one that he knows more than he really does. Thus the unsuspecting adult goes on reading what he does not understand, not now thinking that it does not matter, but falsely persuaded that he has become competent to understand.

Every one of the agencies that I have named aims to do good educational work; every one is competent to do such work; nearly every one does much of it. I am finding fault with them only so far as they succeed in persuading readers that they are better educated than they really are. In this respect such agencies are precisely on a par with the proprietary medicine that is an excellent laxative or sudorific, but is offered also as a cure for tuberculosis or cancer.

I once heard the honoured head of a famous body that does an enormous amount of work of this sort deliver an apologia, deserving of all attention, in which he complained that his institution had been falsely accused of superficiality. It was, he said, perfectly honest in what it taught. If its pupils thought that the elementary knowledge they were gaining was comprehensive and thorough, that was their fault—not his. And vet, at that moment, the institution was posing before its pupils as a "university" and using the forms and nomenclature of such a body to strengthen the idea in their minds. We cannot acquit it, or any of the agencies like it, of complicity in the causation of the malady whose symptoms we are discussing.

It is not the fault of the women's clubs that they have fallen into line in such an imposing procession as this. Their formation and work constitute one of the most interesting and important manifestations of the present feminist movement. Their role in it is partly social, partly educational; and as they consist of adults, elementary education is of course excluded from their programme. We therefore find them committed, perhaps unconsciously, to the plan of required or recommended reading, in a form that has long been the bane of our educational systems both in school and out.

One of the corner-stones of this system is the idea that the acquisition of information is valuable in itself, no matter what may be the relationship between it and the acquiring mind, or what use of it may be made in the future. According to this idea, if a woman can once get into her head that the Medici were a family and not "a race of people," it matters little that she is unfitted to comprehend why they are worth reading about at all, or that the fact has nothing to do with what she has ever done or is likely to be called upon to do in the future.

That the members of these clubs are willing to pursue knowledge under these hampering conditions is of course a point in their favour, so far as it goes. A desire for knowledge is never to be despised, even when it is not entertained for its own sake. And a secondary desire may often be changed into a primary one, if the task is approached in the right way. The possibility of such a transformation is a hopeful feature of the present situation.

The reading that is done by women in connection with club work is of several different types. In the simplest organisations, which are reading clubs pure and simple, a group of books, roughly equal in number to the membership, is taken and passed around until each person has read them all. There is no connection between them, and each volume is selected simply on some one's statement that it is a "good book." A step higher is the club where the books are on one general subject, selected by some one who has been asked to prescribe a "course of reading." By easy gradations we arrive at the final stage, where the reading is of the nature of investigation and its outcome is an essay. A subject is decided on at the beginning of the season. The programme committee selects several phases of it and assigns each to a member, who prepares her essay and reads it to the club at one of the stated meetings. In this case the reading to be done in preparation for writing the essay may or may not be guided by the committee. In many cases, where the local public library cooperates actively with the clubs, a list may be made out by the librarian and perhaps printed, with due acknowledgment, in the club's year book. No one can doubt, in looking over typical programmes and lists among the thousands that represent the annual reading of the women's clubs throughout the United States, that a serious and sustained effort is being made to introduce the intellect, as an active factor, into the lives of thousands of women—lives where hitherto it has played little part, whether they are millionaires or near paupers, workers or idlers. With this aim there must be frill measure of sympathy, but I fear we can commend it only in the back-handed fashion in which a great authority on sociology recently commended the Socialists. "If sympathy with what they are trying to do, as opposed to the way in which they are trying to do it, makes one a Socialist," said the Professor, "then I am a Socialist." Here also we may sympathise with the aim, but the results are largely dependent on the method; and that method is the offspring of ignorance and inefficiency. The results may be summed up in one word—superficiality. I have elsewhere warned readers not to think that this word means simply a slight knowledge of, a subject. A slight knowledge is all that most of us possess, or need to possess, about most subjects. I know a little about Montenegro for instance—something of its origin and relationships, its topography, the names and characteristics of a city or two, the racial and other peculiarities of its inhabitants. Yet I should cut a poor figure indeed in an examination on Montenegrin history, geography or government. Is my knowledge "superficial"? It could not properly be so stigmatised unless I should pose as an authority on Montenegro, or unless my opportunities to know about the country had been so great that failure to take advantage of them should argue mental incapacity. The trouble with the reading-lists and programmes of our women's clubs, inherited in some degree from our general educational methods, is that they emphasise their own content and ignore what they do not contain, to such an extent that those who use them remain largely in ignorance of the fact that the former bears a very small proportion indeed to the latter.

It was once my duty to act as private tutor in algebra and geometry to a young man preparing for college. He was bright and industrious, but I found that he was under the impression that when he had gone to the end of his text-books in those two subjects he would have mastered, not only all the algebra and geometry, but all the mathematics, that the world held in store. And when this story has been told in despair to some very intelligent persons they have commented: "Well, there isn't much more, is there?"

The effort of the text-book writer, as well as that of the maker of programmes, lists, and courses, appears to have been to produce what he calls a "well-rounded" effect; in other words, to make the student think that the whole subject—in condensed form perhaps, but still the whole—lies within what he has turned out. Did you ever see a chemistry that gave, or tried to give, an idea of the world of chemical knowledge that environs its board cover? One has to become a Newton before he feels, with that sage, like a child, playing on the sands, with the great, unexplored ocean of knowledge stretching out before him. Most students are rather like ducks in a barn-yard puddle, quite sure that they are familiar with the whole world and serene in that knowledge.

Most writers of text-books would indignantly deny that this criticism implies a fault. It is none of their business, they would say, to call attention to what is beyond their scope. So be it. Unfortunately, every one feels in the same way and so the horizon of our women's clubs is that of the puddle instead of the ocean.

It is a most interesting fact in this connection that there exist certain organisations which make a business of furnishing clubwomen with information for their papers. I have heard this service described as a "godsend," to clubs in small places where there are no libraries, or where the libraries are poorly equipped with books and personnel. But, if I am correctly informed, the service does not stop with the supply of raw material; it goes on to the finished product, and the perplexed lady who is required to read a paper on "Melchisedek" or on "Popular Errors Regarding the Theory of Groups," may for an adequate fee, or possibly even for an inadequate one, obtain a neatly typewritten manuscript on the subject, ready to read.

This sort of thing is not at all to be wondered at. It has gone on since the dawn of time with college theses, clergymen's sermons, the orations and official papers of statesmen. Whenever a man is confronted with an intellectual task that he dare not shirk, and yet has not the intellect or the interest to perform, the first thing he thinks of is to hire some one to do it for him, and this demand has always been great enough and widespread enough to make it profitable for some one to organise the supply on a commercial basis. What interests us in the present case is the fact that its existence in the woman's club affords an instant clue to the state of mind of many of its members. They have this in common with the plagiarising pupil, clergyman, or statesman—they are called upon to do something in which they have only a secondary interest. The minister who reads a sermon on the text "Thou Shalt Not Steal," and considers that the fact that he has paid five dollars for it will absolve him from the charge of inconsistency, does not—cannot—feel any desire to impress his congregation with a desire for right living—he wants only to hold his job. The university student who, after ascertaining that there is no copyable literature in the Library on "Why I Came to College," pays a classmate a dollar to give this information to the Faculty, cares nothing about the question; but he does care to avoid discipline. So the clubwoman who reads a purchased essay on "Ireland in the Fourteenth Century," has not the slightest interest in the subject; but she does want to remain a member of her club, in good and regular standing. It is the same substitution of adventitious for natural motives and stimuli that works intellectual havoc from the mother's knee up to the Halls of Congress.

When I assert boldly that at the present time the majority of vague and illogical readers are women, and that women's clubs are responsible for much of that kind of reading, I shall doubtless incur the displeasure of the school of feminists who seem bent on minimising the differences between the two sexes. Obvious physical differences they have not been able to explain away, and to deny that corresponding mental differences exist is to shut one's eyes to all the teachings of modern physiology. The mental life is a function, not of the brain alone, but of the whole nervous system of which the brain is but the principal ganglion. Cut off a man's legs, and you have removed something from his mental, as well as from his physical equipment. That men and women should have minds of the same type is a physiological impossibility. A familiar way of stating the difference is to say that in the man's mind reason predominates, in the woman's, intuition. There is doubtless something to be said for this statement of the distinction, but it is objectionable because it is generally interpreted to mean—quite unnecessarily—that a woman's mind is inferior to a man's—a distinction about as foolish as it would be to say the negative electricity is inferior to positive, or cold to heat. The types are in most ways supplementary, and a combination of the two has always been a potent intellectual force—one of the strongest arguments for marriage as an institution. When we try to do the work of the world with either type alone we have generally made a mess of it. And the outcome seems to make it probable that the female type is especially prone to become the prey of fallacies like that which has brought about the present flood of useless, or worse than useless, reading.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse