AMONG the many gatherings of specialists which were held in connection with the Chicago Exposition in 1893 was an International Congress of Librarians. The account of its sessions appeared, in the usual belated manner of government publications, in the Report of the Commissioner of Education some three years later. The American Library Association has just held another similar international congress for the St. Louis Fair. It seems a fitting time, in view of this event, to set forth as well as may be in brief compass the events which have made the ten years which have elapsed since the World's Fair at Chicago a memorable decade in the history of American libraries.
It was a saying of President Garfield's that American education runs too much to bricks and mortar. A biting sting of truth lies in these words, truth which applies but too well to the library world in common with that of education. It is perhaps a national failing to exalt the visible and tangible, and to ignore the subtle and unseen work of culture and study. Undoubtedly the average man will turn to the new buildings which have been reared in this decade for his criterion of progress in library affairs. They form, it must be said, a notable addition to the list of public buildings of merit in the country.
Perhaps it is not too much to say that the modern American library is a new architectural type. Conditions peculiarly our own, many of them the direct result of American innovations in planning library work, have produced a kind of building which is in many respects novel. The college gymnasium and the large library in the hands of our architects have become almost as markedly American forms of building as the sky-scraper and the grain elevator. The demands of the librarian for natural light throughout the structure, for compact storage and at the same time for instant accessibility of his books, for protection from fire and damp, joined with the need of supplying plenty of space for readers, for administration and for those who throng the corridors and desks where books are given out and returned, have resulted in some extremely interesting and beautiful buildings. More and more architects are studying the needs of libraries, and mistakes once made and realized are seldom repeated.
The small library also has furnished in the past decade numerous