Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Quote of the Day: Public Libraries as Literary Culture Incubators

"The third and last class of objections to public libraries to which I shall direct your attention relates to the kind and quality of the books circulated. These objections, which are usually made by educated and scholarly persons, are based on an entire misconception of the facts in the case. The objectors do not divest themselves of the old ideas that libraries are established for the exclusive benefit of scholars; whereas the purpose of these [i.e. public libraries] is to furnish reading for all classes in the community. On no other principle would a general tax for their support be justifiable.

The masses of a community have very little of literary and scholarly culture. They need more of this culture, and the purpose of the library is to develop and increase it. This is done by placing in their hands such books as they can read with pleasure and appreciate, and by stimulating them to acquire the habit of reading. We must first interest the reader before we can educate him; and, to this end, must commence at his own standard of intelligence.

The scholar, in his pride of intellect, forgets the progressive steps he took in his own mental development—the stories read to him in the nursery, the boy's book of adventure in which he revelled with delight, and the sentimental novel over which he shed tears in his youth. Our objector supposes that the masses will read books of his standard if they were not supplied with the books to which he objects; but he is mistaken. Shut up to this choice, they will read no books. When the habit of reading is once acquired, the reader's taste, and hence the quality of his reading, progressively improves."

Poole, WM. F. (1876). Some popular objections to public libraries. The American Library Journal 1(2), p. 48-49. [Paragraph breaks added for readability.]

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