By James Thayer Gerould, Librarian University of Minnesota

(From The Library Journal, November 1906, pp. 761-763)

No questions arise more frequently in the mind of the progressive librarian than these: Is this method the best? Is our practice, in this particular, adapted to secure the most effective administration? are we up to the standard set by similar institutions of our class? These questions are of the most fundamental type, and upon the success with which we answer them depends much of the success of our administration.

Two methods of solution are open to us. We may base our practice on our own experience, or we may supplement that experience by the experience of others. The results of the first are comparatively easy to calculate, but we have as yet no satisfactory method of estimating the results of the other.

Year after year the American Library Association has discussed, at its meetings and in its committees, the question of library statistics, but no satisfactory plan has yet been evolved by which such figures can be made available. We have, indeed, in the report of the Committee on Library Administration, a scheme for uniform reports of public loaning libraries which, for its purpose, is admirable. But even if this schedule were universally adopted, which is far from being the case, the results would be scattered through scores of pamphlet reports or buried in the archives of board rooms. Even in this comparatively well developed field there is no systematic attempt at digesting and rendering available this mass of material.

But the scheme advanced by the committee is not adapted, without modification, to the purposes of the college and reference libraries. Their field of usefulness and their clientèle is quite a different one from that of the public lending library. Statistics of circulation and use are almost useless in this class of libraries on account of the existence of seminary and departmental collections. On the other hand, to cite but a single instance, there is no provision in the suggested plan for any report on the method by which the library funds are allotted to the various fields of instruction in the college, a most important and interesting item. Attention is called to many similar lacunæ later in this paper.

The growth and development of public libraries during the past twenty years has been much more rapid and satisfactory than that of college and university libraries. The latter class have not kept pace, in my opinion, with the former. In too many institutions, otherwise of high rank, the proper organization of the library has been delayed far too long, and in some, even yet, the library is a collection of books “without form and void.”

We are in some danger of being crushed beneath a public library precedent. The library schools, for reasons which are perfectly good, train primarily for the public library, and the graduate who enters on a college library career finds many worlds left yet to conquer. He tries to apply rules which are perfectly good in the public library, and finds that they will not meet the requirements. If he is not wise enough to see where they do not apply and does not know how to modify them, there develops between the librarian and the faculty a lack of co-operation which is unfortunate both to the man and to the institution. We must state our own problems and find our own solutions.

The most difficult task which confronts the librarian who is undertaking to build up a college library is to convince the board of the proper place of the library in the organization of the institution, and afterward of the fact that money is necessary to establish and carry on the work. Too many governing boards have become so accustomed to starving the library that they throw up their hands with the astonishment and horror of Mr. Bumble, the beadle, when Oliver asked for more.

Any academic argument in favor of a given plan is infective and pale as compared with a definite statement, reinforcing the argument that in this and that competing institution such and such things are done. On the other hand, it is perfectly fair that the board should require, in most instances, the citation of precedents. Occasionally, of course, one of us develops an idea which is altogether original and new; but most of us are so earthborn that our really good ideas are the ideas of some one else, or of a number of others, crystallized and adapted to our own needs. We ought to be able to lay our hands on these precedents quickly and easily.

In most instances the only way of securing these facts now available to us is to write to the libraries whose method is most likely to be of use to us and to ask questions, which the busy librarian sometimes has little time to answer adequately. A few years ago, in an ambitious attempt to prepare a monograph somewhat along the lines of Naudé's little book on the French university libraries, I was presuming enough to send a series of questions to a number of the larger libraries. In some cases I secured most full and satisfactory replies, but the number of cases in which the reply was either imperfect or altogether lacking was so large that I was forced to give up my effort.

I should hardly dare to say how many times since then I have supplied to others similar, though not so extensive, information about the library under my charge.

All these facts seem to me to emphasize the necessity of having some method of securing and disseminating information of this character. What should the scheme be and how can we best bring it about? Without attempting to indicate in detail all of the lines of investigation necessary, it may be well to outline, in a brief way, some of the facts which such a report might bring out.

  1. Building. When was the building erected? What was its cost? What is its present and ultimate book capacity? How many seminar rooms? What system of stacks is used?
  2. Books. Total number? Additions during the year, by purchase, by gift? What special collections have you?
  3. Finances. Income during the past year? Is the income the product of invested funds, legislative appropriations, or allotments from general university funds? How much has been spent for books, or periodicals, for building, for supplies and equipment? Are salaries chargeable against library funds or against the general funds for the institution? How are the funds allotted among the different departments of instruction? What classes of books does the librarian buy on his own motion? Do you charge a library fee?
  4. Librarian. How elected? Does he have a seat in the faculty? Does he have the advantage of the sabbatical system? Does he give instruction in bibliography or library economy? Does he have the power of appointment and dismissal of subordinates?
  5. Staff. Number on administrative and technical staff? How many doing order and accession work, reference work, cataloging, at loan desk, in other departments? Do you have a bindery? How many employees? Is promotion made by examination? Do you train you own assistants? Is the staff employed for the calendar or for the academic year? How much time allowed for vacations? Do you have a half holiday during the week?
  6. Orders and accessions. What office records are kept? Do you have a regular agent for American books? Are your books ordered through a foreign or American agent? Number of periodicals received by purchase, by gift and exchange? Do you use an accession book? If not, what other scheme?
  7. Catalog. In what for is your card catalog? Average cost of cataloging per title? Do you use Library of Congress cards? A. L. A. cards? Have you duplicate departmental catalogs?
  8. Loans. Do you loan books to all students? Is a deposit required? Is any restriction placed on faculty loans? What per cent of your students use the library with any degree of regularity? What is your system of fines?
  9. Reference. Have you a permanent reference library, and, if so, how large? Are the books largely duplicated in the main collection? Have you a separate room for serials? Have you the open shelf system for all students?
  10. Departmental libraries. Do you have departmental or seminary libraries, and do you distinguish between them? How are they cared for? Have you any laboratory libraries not considered as a part of the university library? Are the books in the seminary library duplicated in the main collection? Are the seminary libraries permanent or shifting collections?
  11. Salaries. What is the pay roll of the library?

The answers to the most of these questions will be, in many cases, relatively permanent, and will require revision only occasionally. In many cases, however, the facts should be ascertained annually. By this means, in the course of a few years, there could be brought together a collection of facts which would, I believe, be of great value to every college librarian.

If we grant the desirability of such a series of statistics, the question of ways and means at once arises. How can the work be done with the least expenditure of time and money? My suggestion would be this: Let the section appoint a committee to draft such a series of questions and agree to co-operate with the committee by replying to their requests for information. The material once gathered, two courses would be open. The committee might become a general bureau of information to whom a librarian might apply for facts and figures on definite subjects; or better, a compilation of the answers might be made, which when mimeographed or printed, might be furnished to the subscribing libraries.

The crucial question is, of course, that of the cost. If no attempt is made at publication, the expense would be trivial and might, perhaps, be met by a small grant from the A. L. A. funds. If the results are to be distributed, a small subscription, certainly not over a dollar a year, would be required to inaugurate the scheme and keep it up-to-date from year to year. The co-operation of a considerable number of libraries is, of course, necessary, and that must be assured before it will be worth while to undertake the scheme.

The amount of work required of the committee will be, in the first year, quite large, but subsequently it can hardly be burdensome.

I now refer the plan to the section. If it appeals to you at all, I would suggest that a committee be appointed to consider the plan and report at our next session on the advisability of undertaking it. If their report is favorable, they might, at the same time, nominate a permanent committee to take the work in charge. Libraries represented at this conference could be asked to subscribe and the co-operation of others secured later.*

* A committee was appointed to take up this matter as follows: Theodore W. Koch, chairman, University of Michigan; James H. Canfield, University of Columbia; Louis N. Wilson, Clark University.

November 26, 2022