University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Digital Library for the Decorative Arts and Material Culture

Page View

The craftsman
Vol. VII, No. 5 (February 1905)

The development of the public library,   pp. 507-518 PDF (3.5 MB)


Page 507


THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE PUBLIC LIBRARY
   "All free governments ..... are in reality governments by public
opinion ..... .It is, there-
fore, their first duty to purify the element from which they draw the breath
of life."-James Russell
Lowell, in "Democracy."
trance of the typical library of the United States: the
one which best represents the spirit and the working
of a modern movement second to none in all that makes
for the progress and pleasure of the people. For thou-
Qn ,     rpo n 1c -arli -h   i ;AP lrOnC hbrtn ;n rnrp-cc nf
development, specializing the effort to make books accessible to the
student. It has struggled for existence against the gravest difficulties,
both material and immaterial, the last of which now appears to be
well advanced toward solution.
   Once an alphabet had superseded pictographs, the diffusion of ac-
curate knowledge became practicable, although the medium of dif-
fusion was wanting in pliability. Clay cylinders impressed with
cuneiform characters were the first cumbersome repositories of formu-
lated and transcribed learning. But the people in the modern sense
were not yet born. Then there existed only tyrants and slaves. There
could be no need for the public library. Fables served the masses for
history, drama and fiction. In these traditional tales animals were
made to talk and to express sentiments upon government, rulers and
the conduct of life in general, which it would have been death for the
crouching slave to utter.
   Under such conditions, the library was a treasury of royal arch-
ives. The idea existed in its embryo stage, and against its develop-
ment the strongest forces were active. On the one hand, the resist-
ance of the material form of what later was to be the book. On the
other, the mental and moral condition of the teeming masses of the
populace.
   In the following stage, we find the idea still struggling, but exist-
ing in an environment of order. Scrolls and later papyri, inscribed
with highly developed letters, representing in visible form the thought
of minds supreme in their own spheres, were guarded in presses and
cases; security being thus afforded to the treasures of learning, and,
at the same time, economy of space being assured. A type of library
was now reached, an example of which has persisted to the present
day, in the same city which fostered the development of this special
507


Go up to Top of Page