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The Library World Volume 6 Issue 6

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 1 December 1903


OF all trades or professions, with pretensions to some measure of specialization, if not learning, librarianship is the only one which does not make preliminary technical training an absolute condition of entrance to its fellowship. We know, from past experience, that the ranks of the library profession are filled from all sorts of sources and by all kinds of men, very few of whom can show a diploma, or any kind of certificate, beyond their own word and the testimony of interested friends, to prove that they possess any special qualification for the work. In this respect librarianship differs from every other branch of the municipal and public educational services of the country. There is no independent test of fitness applied, even for positions of great responsibility, and librarians hold tenure of their offices by means of credentials which would not be accepted in the case of most town clerks, medical officers, accountants, surveyors, schoolmasters, and even sanitary inspectors. We are assumed to possess qualifications of a profound and immense range, but, beyond the undoubted power to announce this, by means of the voices and tongues with which we are lavishly endowed, our references are, for the most part, testimonies to character and experience, rather than to scientific training and professional capacity. Mr. X. spends fifteen years in the service of the O. Public Library, which was organised by a superannuated railway guard in 1862, on lines which were, no doubt, suggested by his former experience in dealing with parcels, passengers, and other luggage. This system has the merit of being based upon the science of Mathematics, because number is the main factor relied upon in every department, and for every purpose. It may, possess, moreover, an elementary relationship to the science of literature by making some use of the ordinary English alphabet, and so we have a combination of letters and numerals which is satisfactory evidence that the librarian was no fool, although he was only a railway guard. His literary methods are, therefore, of the A, B, C, 1, 2, 3. type, and all his assistants are carefully trained in the art of preserving bibliographical order by observing that 5 comes between 4 and 6, and q after p. Now, the assistant who has been brought up in this kind of library may have 15 years' so‐called experience behind him to which he can proudly refer, when applying for a chief post, and there is nothing on earth to show that he does not know absolutely everything about literature, bibliography and library methods—ancient and modern, retrograde and advanced, childish and scientific, or that he is not, in every sense of the word, a Complete Librarian. Indeed, the possession of such an imposing qualification as Fifteen Years' Experience is enough to intimidate any ordinary committee who have no standards by which to compare such a phenomenon. There is no standard by which we can at present judge the qualifications of any librarian, unless he is ass enough to reveal his shortcomings by writing books and papers, and what is really happening every day is simply that appointments are being made on the successful candidate's own valuation of his fitness. He is not tested as regards his professional ability at all, and library authorities are driven to appoint men who have had a long term of experience, no matter how elementary or antiquated it may be. They cannot do anything else in the absence of proper training schools, and certificates of special knowledge, issued by independent and impartial examining bodies. It is quite common to hear librarians boasting about their ten, twenty, or thirty years of experience, who would be sorely put to it to answer intelligently any ordinary question in English literature, systematic classification, or bibliography. These men have managed to establish a kind of freehold for mere experience, minus every other qualification, and it is their continuance in office which has prevented Public Libraries from being more liberally recognised by both State and local authorities. This absurd substitution of mere experience in feeble and unworthy methods, for systematic training in the higher departments of librarianship, has produced a race of self‐sufficient librarians—inferior in general intelligence to commercial clerks and shopmen—who have succeeded, by their narrow‐minded mal‐administration and absence of culture, to thoroughly eradicate any little scrap of confidence in the Public Library idea originally cherished by the people. It is fashionable among those gentlemen to blame parliamentary and municipal stinginess and indifference, as the sole causes of the inadequate financial provision to be squeezed out of a 1d. rate. They can account for everything on this theory—small salaries, invisible book‐funds, poor buildings equipped with inferior furniture, and so on—forgetting, in their inflated self‐sufficiency, how much of this neglect and indifference is due to their own ignorance and failure to interest either people or governors. The argument that everything must wait till the penny rate is abolished is the refuge of everyone who has failed to realize the important fact that, if recognition is wanted, it must be worked for. It may be taken as pretty conclusive that the failure of Public Libraries to obtain greater support from the people and Parliament is due largely to an all‐round failure to meet public needs in a thoroughly efficient manner. It matters not if some twenty or thirty places are managed on business‐like and scientific lines. They cannot influence other places at a distance, scattered all over the Kingdom to the number of 450, and inaccessible in other respects to the reformative effect of a good example. There are plenty of superior, cock‐sure librarians going about, with all the authority conferred by twenty years' experience—and nothing else—telling the people that the utmost degree of accomplishment to be had for a penny has been reached. This alone is enough to counteract the good work of fifty well‐managed libraries. The people say to themselves, “If our library represents all we can get for a penny, and our librarian is the sort of man we may expect in the future, what's the good of paying more for a double dose of the same kind of outfit?”


(1903), "The Library World Volume 6 Issue 6", New Library World, Vol. 6 No. 6, pp. 144-172.




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