THE PUBLIC AND ITS PUBLIC LIBRARY. 245
or to the counter of the news stand and selects his own reading, Tinder his own rules, in accordance with his own opinion of his needs, and after an actual inspection of what the shelves can afford him. He has learned, or is fast learning, that public library treasures are in the main treasures no longer ; that the only rational selection of reading is one made after the examina- tion of many books ; and he is beginning to demand that he be permitted to come in immediate contact with the volumes he is invited to read. The public library, whether it be a library which the people are taxed to maintain or a library which belongs to them by gift, must, so the demand goes, be managed with as much con- sideration for its patrons and with as much appearance of faith in their honesty as the ready-made-clothing house or the book- store. This demand is seconded by the new view of the functions of a public library ; it is, in fact, a part of this new view. The library is no longer looked upon as a storehouse of learning, to be used by the few already learned ; it is thought of as a factor in the growth of the community in wisdom, in social efficiency, and a factor therein second only to the public schools, if second even to them. It is accordingly widening its business of book distrib- uting by the addition of the powers possible to it as a laboratory of general learning. Of books it is as true as of the materials of chemistry, botany, or biology and even the non-literary, wayfar- ing man begins to see this that only by working among them and with them can one get out of them their real worth. The public to-day, in a word, sees the importance the absolute neces- sity, in fact of the laboratory method in that study of books which underlies, or at least accompanies, the study of all other things.
In its attractiveness to the would-be student, not to mention the desultory reader, the library whose resources are open for examination and selection is far superior to the one which keeps its patrons on the outside of the delivery counter. The book buyer finds delight in a personal inspection of the volumes he would select from. It is by the unrestrained browsing through a score of inviting volumes that the student, whether beginner or expert, finds at last the one which meets his case. To all who are drawn, whether in ignorant questioning or in enlightened zeal, to visit a collection of books, the touch of the books themselves, the joy of their immediate presence, is an inspiring thing. Those who have had experience of both methods testify that the open library gives more pleasure, encourages reading of a higher grade, and attracts more readers than the library which is closed to the public.
The cheapness of books ; the growth of the public's feeling of ownership in its library, and of the propriety of laying hands on