A Library Primer (1899)/Chapter XXXIX

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A Library Primer by John Cotton Dana
Chapter XXXIX, Books as useful tools

There is still too much of superstition and reverence mingled with the thought of books and literature, and study and studentship in the popular mind. Books are tools, of which here and there one is useful for a certain purpose to a certain person. The farmer consults his farm paper on the mixing of pig-feed; the cook takes from the latest treatise the rules for a new salad; the chemist finds in his journal the last word on the detection of poisons; the man of affairs turns to the last market reports for guidance in his day's transactions; and all have used books, have studied literature. The hammer and the poem, the hoe and the dictionary, the engine and the encyclopedia, the trowel and the treatise on philosophy—these are tools. One and all, they are expressions of the life of the race. But they are not, for that reason, to be reverenced. They are proper for man's service, not man for theirs. Approach books, then, as you would a sewing machine, a school, or a factory.

Literature, after all, is simply all that's printed. In print are found the sum of the experience and observation of the whole race. Out of this print it is the librarian's business to help his fellows to draw such facts and suggestions as may aid them in their work.