5) The free reading room connected with most of our public libraries, and the library proper as well, if it be rightly conducted, is a powerful agent for counteracting the attractions of saloons and low resorts. Especially useful is it to those boys and young men who have a dormant fondness for reading and culture, but lack home and school opportunities.
6) The library is the ever-ready helper of the school-teacher. It aids the work of reading circles and other home-culture organizations, by furnishing books required and giving hints as to their value and use; it adds to the usefulness of courses of lectures by furnishing lists of books on the subjects to be treated; it allies itself with university extension work; in fact, the extension lecture given in connection with the free use of a good library seems to be the ideal university of the people.
The public library, then, is a means for elevating and refining the taste, for giving greater efficiency to every worker, for diffusing sound principles of social and political action, and for furnishing intellectual culture to all.
The library of the immediate future for the American people is unquestionably the free public library, brought under municipal ownership, and, to some extent, municipal control, and treated as part of the educational system of the state. The sense of ownership in it makes the average man accept and use the opportunities of the free public library while he will turn aside from book privileges in any other guise.
That the public library is a part of the educational system should never be lost sight of in the work of establishing it, or in its management. To the great mass of the people it comes as their first and only educational opportunity. The largest part of every man’s education is that which he gives himself. It is for this individual, self-administered education that the public library furnishes the opportunity and the means. The schools start education in childhood; libraries carry it on.
Suggestions as to general policy of the library
In general, remember always 1) that the public owns its public library, and 2) that no useless lumber is more useless than unused books. People will use a library, not because, in others’ opinions, they ought to, but because they like to. See to it, then, that the new library is such as its owner, the public, likes; and the only test of this liking is use. Open wide the doors. Let regulations be few and never obtrusive. Trust American genius for self-control. Remember the deference for the rights of others with which you and your fellows conduct yourselves in your own homes, at public tables, at general gatherings. Give the people at least such liberty with their own collection of books as the bookseller gives them with his. Let the shelves be open, and the public admitted to them, and let the open shelves strike the keynote of the whole administration. The whole library should be permeated with a cheerful and accommodating atmosphere. Lay this down as the first rule of library management; and for the second, let it be said that librarian and assistants are to treat boy and girl, man and woman, ignorant and learned, courteous and rude, with uniform good-temper without condescension; never pertly.