Billeder på siden

been prevented, but the truth of the remark would not have been so applicable to them, that “ to acquire the art of forgetting is as desirable as to acquire the art of remembering."

Nothing can be more obvious than that in reading, a judicious selection should be made from the works issued from the press. But can we assert that the majority of any community are competent judges in such a case ? This would be too broad a statement, and one which experience contradicts. What, then, can be done? The following proposal is made: Let a judicious and competent committee, in whom the public will place confidence, be appointed, that they may direct their attention to the subject, and recommend works to the public. The committee could ascertain the value of a book before they recommend it. They would feel a public responsibility so as to beget particular attention to the subject; and this would give them a decided advantage over even other well-informed persons, whose attention might have been seldom directed to such an end.

This committee could likewise attend to the purchase of books, and also by recommendation effect the publication of many. They could furnish works cheaper than could otherwise be obtained. The expense of publication is an obstacle to more extensive circulation. But few purchase so large a collection as they desire to possess : expense prevents them. To obviate this difficulty, libraries in many places have been established. The utility and practicability of libraries have long been proved by experience. By their aid, at small outlay, access to valuable depositories of books can be obtained. That the great body of the people may derive the greatest advantages which the press can afford, they must have libraries provided for them; and the deficiency of the privileges which they derive from the press will generally be in proportion to the neglect of libraries. In order, therefore, that the benefits of the press may be most effectually extended through the committee, a system of libraries with a publishing committee should be commenced.

These principles have been acted upon separately, but not conjointly. There have been committees to supervise works for the press, but not connected with a system of libraries. On the other ħand, libraries have been established, but not under the superintendence of a publishing committee. Accordingly, they have not flourished, or have not been productive of the good anticipated. Systematic and matured measures were wanting. System is as useful in the moral as in the natural world; and a system to establish libraries may be as practicable as a system for the establishment of any benevolent institution.

Such are the more general ideas which the plan of the American writer embraces, and which he recommends to the consideration of the united government of his country, and also to that of each separate State. It appears that in America libraries are sometimes

attached to churches; but, he says, without the proper and anticipated results. We do not think that in Great Britain the benefits from like provisions would be greater if similarly instituted and superintended. In fact, we are not laying before our readers the character of the plan of the Transatlantic writer with the view of urging its literal adoption in this country. Our purpose is merely, by comparing it with that which has been in operation in districts of Scotland, to show that were libraries established in every parish and in every defined locality of the land, upon some footing and according to some such principles as will be developed more particularly than has yet been done in our outline, the potency of the press and the blessings of which it might be rendered the handmaiden, would, we believe, be wonderfully greater than have ever yet been witnessed.

The principles and details of the system proposed are thus introduced :-that libraries may be commenced as extensively as possible, on a plan that will secure a regular increase of their number,“ First, let a committee of judicious men, in whom the public will place confidence, be appointed to recommend books to be purchased or published, at stated periods of one or two years, for these libraries; and likewise, to superintend the pecuniary, and other concerns of the libraries. Secondly, these libraries are to be supported by subscriptions, by the purchase of shares, or in some other method, which may appear more practicable, each church receiving an amount of books, in proportion to the amount of its subscription. Thirdly, let an agent be appointed to visit the churches, and attend to the concerns of the libraries, as may appear advisable.”

The American writer next proceeds to allow Mr. Brown to explain the Scottish system of Itinerating Libraries, particularly as developed and tested in the East Lothian or Haddington district, and to compare it with that of the Local, which he would prefer.

The primary feature of the Scottish libraries is their itinerating character. The books are formed into divisions of fifty volumes each. One of these divisions is stationed in a place for two years, and the books are issued to all persons about twelve years of age, who will take care of them. After that period, it is removed to another town or village, and a new division is sent in its stead, which, after other two years, is again exchanged for another. Thus a perpetual succession of new books is introduced into each town and village, and by this means the interest of the readers is very effectually kept up; whereas, it is thought by Mr. Brown, owing to the stationary character of libraries in country places, that the interest in them, after a few years subsides. At the time when he drew up the Memoir, he states, that the issues of certain Itinerating Libraries were as follows: of new books at Haddington to subscribers, on an average of the two preceding years, nearly eight and a half times per annum

for each volume: the gratuitous issues at Haddington, Gifford, Salton, Aberlady, North Berwick, Belhaven, and Spot have been seven times for each volume; and the issues of the books of the whole establishment (amounting to upwards of 2000 volumes) have, so far as reported, been five times for each volume,-or 10,000 issues of the whole. Such was the interest in several places, during the winter season, excited by these libraries, that the whole of the books have been issued at one time, so that not a volume was left. The primary object of the Itinerating libraries is to promote the interests of religion, and a large proportion of the books have accordingly a religious character; yet a considerable number belong to history, biography, travels, and arts and sciences popularly handled.

Now, observe what is the scheme which the American writer would prefer. He begins with stating that a considerable number of the Itinerating books “combine amusement with instruction," and that the libraries have been open for “gratuitous distribution.” He then remarks that if, on the system of Local libraries, a considerable number of the works were of a popular kind and gratuitously given, he apprehends the readers would not be fewer than those mentioned by Mr. Brown, especially where the population is so dense as that of the district quoted. According to the number of subscribers in Haddington named, viz. 162, when there were eight and a half issues of each volume, the number of issues from the fifty volumes will be found to be 425, which on an average gives to each subscriber less than three volumes per annum ; no very great amount, nor such as presents any strong apparent reasons for removing the fifty volumes to another station after two years. Again, the number of volumes issued gratuitously, especially in populous places, and even the fact that sometimes the whole of the books have been issued at once, it is argued, are not circumstances which prove that the interest awakened is inseparable from the system of itinerating. From any system of gratuitous distribution equal results might be expected.

The small interest felt in stationary libraries of which Mr. Brown speaks, does not necessarily result from their being stationary. The selection may have been injudicious; the people may not have possessed a taste for reading, which no system of libraries could speedily beget. The peculiar advantage resulting from the Itinerating libraries is stated to be, that by means of the perpetual succession of new books the interest of the readers is very effectually kept up. But on the system of Local libraries likewise, at regular periods of one or two years, a similar succession might be provided, as will afterwards be shown. Besides, although the love of novelty properly regulated is productive of good, and it be impossible to restrain it entirely without violating a wise law of nature, still there is danger of cultivating this love beyond its relative value. Might not a Local system meet even in this repect all the rightful demands?

The author of the Plan has a note to the following effect, when noticing the want of a taste for reading, and alluding to the likely means of awakening it: in the report of the committee of the American Lyceums, it is stated, he says, that a deep and general regret is expressed on account of town and village libraries being but little resorted to, but that the cause for the regret is removed by the meetings of Lyceums. The moment young people come together for mutual instruction in subjects of useful knowledge they call for books. The old library is looked up to, or a new one is joined; and when the members are not conversing with each other, they are perhaps conversing with their books.

Mr. Brown has said that a second important feature of the Itinerating libraries is their cheapness, a circumstance which must ever be of importance in any scheme of benevolence. When the object is to supply not a single town or village with a library, but a whole country, a saving of expense comes to be a primary desideratum. A single library of fifty volumes, with book case, catalogue, labels, &c., may be provided for from £10 to £12, although much may depend on the kind of books wanted, and whether they have been recently published. However, very good divisions may be selected for from £8 to £10. Taking the medium of these rates, viz. £10, the following number of libraries, he calculates, might be established for the sum stated1 for a village

£10 5 for a district of villages

50 for a county · The author of the Memoir goes on to remark that, supposing the books in these libraries to be read on an average annually in the proportion which has just been stated, that is, five times for each volume, this in twenty years, the period which a library is found to last, will amount to 100 issues for every volume, or 5000 issues for the whole of the books in each library; and 250,000 issues for the whole of the books in fifty libraries. And he doubts whether so much good as may be anticipated from such a number of wellchosen libraries, could be effected at so small an expense by almost any other means.

The American writer does not see why all the causes which favour the cheapness of Itinerating libraries, might not in a superior degree favour Local libraries. At the same time he does not admit that the mere fact of supplying a greater number of books than any other system proves that the plan is preferable, any more than that ministers ought to itinerate, because they could by so doing preach a greater number of sermons and produce more excitement than if they remained stationary.

Mr. Brown mentions as a third important characteristic of Itine

[ocr errors]

50 500

rating libraries, that there is in them a principle of Self-production. This, he says, is a principle which is found in few schemes of benevolence. Originally all the Itinerating libraries were entirely gratuitous,-only a small box was attached to each library, to afford the readers an opportunity of giving any small donation they might think proper ; but some years after a plan was adopted of keeping new books at Haddington for the use of all persons who gave a small annual subscription, to the value of double the amount of their whole contribution, and the plan was extended to other towns. This arrangement, it is declared, has been attended with complete success. Previous to the adoption of this measure, the greatest number of annual subscribers did not exceed eight; but at the time when the Memoir was drawn up they amounted to 102, year after year regularly increasing. In consequence of there being stations for new books in different towns, it was found practicable to furnish the subscribers with a much greater number of recent publications, by means of a mutual exchange between these places than would have been practicable had the plan been limited to a single town. By the subscriptions, too, the means are in part furnished for providing new books in the following year.

At first the books were issued gratuitously from the libraries to which there were no subscriptions; for it was feared that if a payment was demanded, however small, it might essentially impede the success of the Itinerating scheme, one principal object of which was to bring the books within the reach of the whole population, particularly of the young, whom it is of peculiar importance to form to habits of reading and reflection. As soon, however, as a spirit of reading was discovered to have been awakened, a small payment at the rate of a penny-a volume was proposed to be required, which, it was calculated, would, together with lending out the books when new to subscribers of 58., bring in for each division the sum of 258. a year; this sum, as the number of libraries increased, becoming the fruitful parent of other new libraries.

Such facts and proposals set the author of the Memoir upon a train of sanguine speculation which is far from uninteresting. He says, if a British and Foreign Library Society were established in London, and were able to raise £5000 a year for the formation of such libraries, they might, within a moderate period of time, cover the whole of Europe with such Institutions, by getting up divisions of fifty volumes each, with book-cases, &c., granting them on loan for 258. a year, which many individuals would willingly pay, as they might more than reimburse themselves by lending out the books. This scheme in the course of fifty years, it is calculated, might establish 990,152 libraries, which, " taking the population of the globe at six hundred millions, would provide libraries for nearly every 600 of the inhabitants.”

« ForrigeFortsæt »