Page images

has so far as is known met with general approval when once understood. Those, however, who prefer the guarantee system may be reminded that from the very opening of the institution provision was made in the regulations (Article VI. Sect. 2) that any inhabitant of Boston depositing the value of the work desired could take it away from the building. So little, however, has this privilege been valued, that, during the past seventeen years, but very few instances have occurred where application has been made under the rule.

Indeed, it is difficult to see how the institution can be made any more free to the public without removing all check and restraint, and allowing free access to the loan department, which process would probably soon deplete the walls of both libraries of a considerable portion of their contents. But it is, perhaps, needless to assure the city government that the hopes and desires of the Trustees tend rather to freedom than restriction, as the changes of the last few years have fully demonstrated.

The questions have been asked, Why, in so large a reading population as the City of Boston affords, do the statistics of the use of books fall so far short of the most successful English libraries? Why, if our Library is freer than any English library, does it not circulate a larger number of books in proportion to the population admitted to its use? Why, also, considering the extent of the collection, the large library service maintained here, and the promptness with which catalogues and books are placed within reach of the public, do not more people avail themselves of its invaluable resources?

The answers to these questions may be very simply stated. In comparing statistics for the purpose of obtaining reliable results, they must be collected upon the same basis. In counting the uses of English libraries, the branches contributing their totals to the figures of the main or central one, they often include periodicals, and other readings and consultations, excluded from our numeration. This will not, however, account for the dif

ference. The explanation is partly to be found in the fact that the classes of people who are book-buyers in the United States, and especially in New England, are proportionately more numerous than in any country in Europe. Here, in almost every artisan's home, the book-shelf has a prominent place, and books are thought part of the necessary furniture of a house; while in England, book-buyers in the same grade of life are rare, and but slowly increasing. The frequenters of the Liverpool and Manchester libraries, for the most part, are not book-purchasers; they resort to the library to obtain what they will not or cannot buy. Besides this, they have no institutions or conveniences in provincial cities at all comparing with the circulating libraries so largely patronized here in the line of popular literature, especially novels.

Among the results expected from the new registration system was a better knowledge of the visitors of the Library, and in consequence, of its fuller adaptation to their wants. From the numeration tables (Appendix XIV), it is cheering to find that the uses of the Library extend to all the employments and professions of our city, and that the various departments of the institution are visited with so much frequency by both sexes.

This brings us to another point of difference in favor of the English libraries. The zeal manifested in obtaining books from our Lower Hall is the more creditable, when the poor accommodation for waiting in the distributing room is considered. When one remembers the fine hall filled with comfortable seats in the Liverpool Free Library, where five or six hundred people can place themselves without crowd, or jostling, or confusion, and the reading rooms of the Manchester libraries, accommodating nearly eight hundred visitors, and contrasts the scenes daily witnessed in the hour of largest attendance in our waiting room, it is surprising to find how many are willing to submit to the inconveniences of such a crowded, ill-ventilated apartment. This is another reason largely affecting our circulation. It may in some degree be remedied in time, by the establishment of

Branch Libraries with suitable waiting rooms; but the principal Circulating Library of the institution will always fall short of its natural usefulness so long as it cannot be visited at the hours most convenient to the largest number of people, without equal personal discomfort to both sexes.

With these preliminaries, we may now venture to examine some of the statistics of the Manchester free libraries, which by the last report are said by their committee "to realize the largest circulation of any library in the world." In a population of 338,722 in the City of Manchester, there were last year 35,336 borrowers (including suburban residents), who took from the library 477,544 volumes, or an average of 131 volumes to a borrower. In Boston, a population of 225,000 with 16,797 borrowers carried away 198,975 volumes, an average of nearly 11 each. In Manchester, 10 per cent. of the population have obtained permission to borrow books; in Boston, about 72 per cent., which percentage has since largely increased. Thus, for the reasons just stated, a smaller proportion of residents borrow, on the average, fewer books from our one library than from the central collection at Manchester, with its five branches. It is evident that readiness of access is an important element in circulation, and when it is remembered that a very considerable portion of our people reside more than a mile from Boylston Street, the comparison of figures is not so unfavor able to us as at first blush appears.

The increasing appreciation of the value of the Library is most gratifying. But it is true that none but constant users have any adequate idea of the completeness of the collection. In number of volumes, it falls far short of many European libraries; but it is doubtful if any library in England, save the British Museum, has so large a number of useful modern books in the various departments of literature and science, not only in English, but in German, French and Italian: and there are few continental libraries which surpass in these classes of work

our own collection. It has grown up with the wants of its readers, and though very far from complete in many departments of learning, its progress has been most satisfactory, and gives promise of future greatness. In its present state, its advantages are widely known among the scientific men of the country, who will find further attraction when the publication of the second supplement of the Bates Hall Library permits the institution to make known the great value of its additions in the past three years. Originally based, and still administered upon the principle of supplying the largest number of books useful to the largest number of people, the Library has found an additional convenience in contributing to special research or information, by the purchase of books requested by individuals, and has thus been enabled to fill gaps in various departments of much importance to the completeness of the collection.

The Ordinance in relation to the Public Library, recently passed by the City Council, does not materially change the functions of the Trustees. It, however, contains an important section, empowering them under certain proper restrictions “from time to time to establish Branch Libraries of popular and useful books and periodicals in sections of the city distant from the main collection." The subject has already been referred by the Trustees to a special committee of its body, for the purpose of maturing a plan and system of operation suited to the requirements of the case. It is expected that the committee will report in season to make the first experiment of a "Branch" ready for discussion and adoption before the passage of the next general appropriation bill, in the spring of 1870.

It is much to be regretted that the efforts of the city government to provide larger accommodations for the present needs and future growth of this institution have so far proved unavailing. The Boylston street site is sufficiently convenient for the purposes of extension, were it not wanting in the two great

requisites of light and air. Without obtaining these necessities, the Trustees have declined to recommend any further expenditure for building upon the present lot. Yet the Library must have more room. Almost every department requires enlarged conveniences. The establishment of Branch Libraries will probably relieve the distributing room of a portion of our borrowers but it will even then be insufficient. The visitors of the reading room already exceed the limits framed to fulfil the conditions of the Bates donation. The Trustees have availed themselves of the walls of the public rooms of the lower story for the purpose, of displaying a portion of the munificent gift of Mr. Appleton; but these treasures of art cannot be shown without trespassing on apartments devoted to other uses.

Every day must necessarily add to the difficulties of the situation. Books must be placed upon the shelves, classifications continued, the work of preparation for use must go forward, and every department, so far as is practicable, kept in complete condition. These necessities may possibly be controlled for a short season in the present building; but it must be remembered that any change of site will require long preparation, not only on account of the proper construction of an edifice, but also for the removal and re-arrangement of the books, and for the preparation and publication of entirely new catalogues for the whole collection. Under these conditions, it may become the part of economy to obtain land adjacent to the present site, although the expenditure for the same may possibly be very considerablc..

Special mention is made elsewhere of the magnificent collection of engravings formed by Cardinal Tosti, at Rome, purchased for this institution and presented to it by Thomas G. Appleton, Esq., one of its original Trustees, and of its earliest friends and donors. It forms a cabinet of instruction of a character herctofore inaccessible to a large portion of our population, who will recognize with pleasure the wise foresight which

« PreviousContinue »