Page:Essays in librarianship and bibliography.djvu/53

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PUBLIC LIBRARIES AND THEIR CATALOGUES

Castle," affirms of a book without matter for a quotation, namely, that it is no book at all. Now, what Mr. Curll's index-maker was to Mr. Curll, librarians are to the general republic of letters. Every visitor to the Reading Room of the British Museum who is guided by the mere light of nature persists in styling the catalogue "the index": their promotion in public consideration has accordingly kept pace with that of their humbler allies, or rather exceeded it, for if not starting originally from a point quite so depressed, they have attained one much more exalted. The cause, however, is the same in both cases—the enormous increase of knowledge, the need of a rigorous classification of its accumulated stores, and the development of a specialised class of workers to discharge this function. Next to the importance of information existing at all is that of its being garnered, classified, registered, made promptly available for use. A good public library has been aptly compared to a substantial bank, where drafts presented are duly honoured; and librarians, as such, occupy much the same relation to the republic of letters as the commissariat to the rest of the army—their business is not to fight themselves, but to put others into a condition to do it. As a consequence, their collective organisation is much more complete than of yore; and their calling assumes more and more the character of a distinct profession requiring special training, with a distinct tendency to gravitate towards the Civil Service. Time has been when a librarianship was most probably a sinecure, or at best a "Semitic