WE begin a new year, in which we wish good things for all who work in libraries and care for them, in circumstances which are not unpropitious. At times raven voices prophesy the doom of a profession glued to things so transitory as books are now imagined to be, by some. Indeed, so much is this a dominant fear that some librarians, to judge by their utterances, rest their hopes upon other recorded forms of knowledge‐transmission; forms which are not necessarily inimical to books but which they think in the increasing hurry of contemporary life may supersede them. These fears have not been harmful in any radical way so far, because they may have increased the librarian's interest in the ways of bringing books to people and people to books by any means which successful business firms use (for example) to advertise what they have to sell. The modern librarian becomes more and more the man of business; some feel he becomes less and less the scholar; but we suggest that this is theory with small basis in fact. Scholars are not necessarily, indeed they can rarely be, bookish recluses; nor need business men be uncultured. For men of plain commonsense there need be few ways of life that are so confined that they exclude their followers from other ways and other men's ideas and activities. And, as for the transitoriness of books and the decline of reading, we ourselves decline to acknowledge or believe in either process. Books do disappear, as individuals. It is well that they do for the primary purpose of any book is to serve this generation in which it is published; and, if there survive books that we, the posterity of our fathers, would not willingly let die, it is because the life they had when they were contemporary books is still in them. Nothing else can preserve a book as a readable influence. If this were not so every library would grow beyond the capacity of the individual or even towns to support; there would, in the world of readers, be no room for new writers and their books, and the tragedy that suggests is fantastically unimaginable. A careful study, recently made of scores of library reports for 1951–52, which it is part of our editorial duty to make, has produced the following deductions. Nearly every public library, and indeed other library, reports quite substantial increases in the use made of it; relatively few have yet installed the collections of records as alternatives to books of which so much is written; further still, where “readers” and other aids to the reading of records, films, etc., have been installed, the use of them is most modest; few librarians have a book‐fund that is adequate to present demands; fewer have staffs adequate to the demands made upon them for guidance by the advanced type of readers or for doing thoroughly the most ordinary form of book‐explanation. It is, in one sense a little depressing, but there is the challenging fact that these islands contain a greater reading population than they ever had. One has to reflect that of our fifty millions every one, including infants who have not cut their teeth, the inhabitants of asylums, the illiterate—and, alas, there are still thousands of these—and the drifters and those whose vain boast is that “they never have time to read a book”—every one of them reads six volumes a year. A further reflection is that public libraries may be the largest distributors, but there are many others and in the average town there may be a half‐dozen commercial, institutional and shop‐libraries, all distributing, for every public library. This fact is stressed by our public library spending on books last year at some two million pounds, a large sum, but only one‐tenth of the money the country spent on books. There are literally millions of book‐readers who may or may not use the public library, some of them who do not use any library but buy what they read. The real figure of the total reading of our people would probably be astronomical or, at anyrate, astonishing.
MCB UP Ltd
Copyright © 1953, MCB UP Limited