The recent resolution of the Aberdeen Libraries Committee to stock shilling books, which was commented upon somewhat acidly by our contributor “Eratosthenes” last month, has aroused rather widespread interest. In particular it has given rise to an article in the Newsagent in which it is argued that the admirable policy of certain publishers in recent years of publishing standard works at cheap prices, has completely demoralised the argument for the lending department of public libraries as at present organised. As anybody can buy whole sets of books at a shilling a volume, the supposed necessity of a public institution providing books vanishes. The public library, if it is to retain its utility, ought to eschew such works and confine its function to more expensive works not attainable by persons of ordinary means; and much else. This is an example of the rather cheap trade reasoning in which a certain type of journalist delights to indulge. The aim of the public library, in his view, is so to adjust its activities that it shall not spoil the chance of a book‐seller selling one or two copies of a work in any given town. In actual fact its business is nothing of the kind; it is to supply the representative literature, first of this country, and then of the world, so far as its limited means permit, and price is an entirely secondary or tertiary consideration. It would be as reasonable to exclude daffodils from public parks because bulbs are cheap, and every man who wants them can buy them for himself, as to exclude any great book from a library because it happens to be cheap. Writers often enunciate good principles from low motives, and the principles which should determine the librarian against the cheap book are the qualities of fragile paper, poor type, poor sewing and poorer binding, which must necessarily accompany cheap books. Cheap “libraries,” which parade in the guise of text books or manuals of knowledge, should be excluded for reasons already given in these pages; they pretend to do what in most cases it is impossible to do. Bishop Mandell Creighton, in addressing library students at the London School of Economics, stated as a postulate of reading, that the student should always go to the largest book on his subject, and that in an equal amount of time he would gain more knowledge from the large book than he would from any brief conspectus of his subject. The fact that a journal should presume, from obviously inadequate knowledge, to question the utility of public lending libraries, in which shilling books form but an infinitesimal fraction of the stock, is surprising only to those among us who do not know that every journalist imagines he has been divinely inspired by Providence to expatiate upon libraries.
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