Library patrons may be roughly divided into classes, thus: First—The adult student who, on rare occasions, calls to supplement the resources of his own collection of books with the resources of the public institution. This class is very small. Second—The dilettante, or amateur, who is getting up an essay or a criticism for some club or society, and wishes to verify his impression as to the color of James Russell Lowell’s hair, or the exact words Dickens once used to James T. Fields in speaking of a certain ought-to-be-forgotten poem of Browning’s. This class is large, and its annual growth in this country is probably an encouraging sign of the times. It indicates interest. Third—The serious-minded reader who alternately tackles Macaulay, Darwin, and Tom Jones with frequent and prolonged relapses—simply to rest his mind—into Mrs Wistar and Capt. King. This class is quite large, and though in too large a measure the victims of misplaced confidence in Sir John Lubbock and Frederick Harrison, they make excellent progress and do much to keep up the reading habit. Fourth—The “Oh, just-anything-good-you-know” reader. Her name is legion. She never knows what she has read. Yet the social student who failed to take into account the desultory, pastime reader, would miss a great factor in the spread of ideas. Fifth—The person who does not read. He is commoner than most suppose. He is often young, more often boy than girl, oftener young man than young woman. He commits eternally what Mr Putnam aptly calls the great crime against the library of staying away from it. He is classed among the patrons of the library somewhat as the western schoolma’am brought in knowledge of the capital of Massachusetts as part of her mental baggage: “Well, I know I ought to know it.” He ought to be a library patron. How make him one? There are many methods, and all should be tried. The Pears’ soap plan of printers’ ink is one of the finest and best.
If a library has or is a good thing for the community let it so be said, early, late, and often, in large, plain type. So doing shall the library’s books enter—before too old to be of service—into that state of utter worn-out-ness which is the only known book-heaven. Another way, and by some found good, is to work the sinfully indifferent first up into a library missionary, and then transform him into a patron. A library is something to which he can give an old book, an old paper, an old magazine, with no loss to himself. Having given, the library is at once his field, a Timbuctoo for his missionary spirit, is in part his creation. Ever after he is its interested friend. He wants to know about it. He goes to see it. He uses it.
Public libraries and recreation
W.I. Fletcher in Public Libraries, July, 1898