Essays in librarianship and bibliography/Address to the Library Association

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There are times in the lives of institutions as well as individuals when retrospect is a good thing; when it is desirable to look back and see how far one has travelled, and by what road; whether the path of progress has always been in the right direction; whether it may not have been sometimes unnecessarily devious; whether valuable things may not have been dropped or omitted, in quest of which it may be desirable to travel back; whether, on the other hand, the journey may not have been fertile in glad surprises, and have led to acquisitions and discoveries of which, at starting, one entertained no notion. The interval of sixteen years which has elapsed since the first meeting of this Association at London, suggests that such a time may well have arrived in its history. There is yet another reason why the present meeting invites to retrospection. We can look back in every sense of the term. All our past is behind us in a physical as well as in an intellectual sense. We are as far north as ever we can go. There are, I rejoice to think, British libraries and librarians even farther north than Aberdeen, but it is almost safe to predict that there never will be congresses. We are actually farther north than Moscow, almost as far as St. Petersburg. Looking back in imagination we can see the map of Great Britain and Ireland and we must not forget France dotted over with the places of our meetings, all alike conspicuous by the cordiality of our reception, each specially conspicuous by some special remembrance, as—

"Each garlanded with her peculiar flower,
 Danced into light, and died into the shade."

The temptation to linger upon these recollections is very strong, but I must not yield to it, because more serious matters claim attention, and because time would not suffice, and because the interest of our members and any other auditors must necessarily be in proportion to the number of meetings they have themselves attended, while the time, alas! slowly but certainly approaches when the first meetings will not be remembered by any one. Yet in a retrospective address it would be impossible to pass without notice the first two meetings of all, for it was by them that the character, since so admirably maintained, was impressed upon the Association. We first met at the London Institution in Finsbury Circus under the auspices of the man who, above all men, has the best right to be accounted our founder—the present Bodleian Librarian, Mr. Nicholson. Meetings in London, I may say for the information of our northern friends, labour under a serious defect as compared with Aberdeen and other more favoured places—a deficiency in the accessories of sight-seeing and hospitality. Not that Londoners are any less hospitable than other citizens, but there are reasons patent to all why in that enormous metropolis till lately under such a very anomalous system or no system of municipal government, and where innumerable objects of interest are for the most part common property—entertainments cannot be systematically organised, especially at seasons of the year when unless, under the present dispensation, one is an unpaired member of Parliament, it is almost a reproach to be found in the metropolis. For all that, I scarcely think that any meeting was enjoyed with zest equal to the gathering in that amphitheatre and lecture room, nearly as subdued in light but nowise as cool as a submarine grot. For we were doing then what we could not do afterwards in the majestic hall of King's College, Cambridge, or in the splendid deliberative chamber accorded to us by the liberality of the corporation of Birmingham. We were legislating, we were tracing the lines of the future; most interesting and important of all, we were proving whether the conception of a Library Association, so attractive on paper, was really a living conception that would work. That this question was so triumphantly answered I have always attributed in great measure to the presence among us of a choice band of librarians from the United States. These gentlemen knew what we only surmised; they had been accustomed to regard themselves as members of an organised profession; they felt themselves recognised and honoured as such; they had ample experience of congresses and public canvasses and library journals; they were just the men to inspire English librarians, not with the public spirit which they possessed already, but with the esprit de corps which, in their then dispersed and unorganised condition, they could not possess. They came to me at least as a revelation; the horizon widened all round, and the life and spirit they infused into the meeting contributed largely to make it the success it was. Had we gone away then with the sensation of failure, it is not likely that I should now be addressing you in Aberdeen or elsewhere. But there was another ordeal to be faced. Critics say that the second book or picture is very commonly decisive of the future of an author or artist whose début has been successful it shows whether he possesses staying power. Well, when next year we came to Oxford, in that sense of the term we did come to stay. The variety and the interest of the papers, and the spirit of the discussions, showed that there existed both ample material for our deliberations and ample interest and ability to render deliberation profitable. Here again we were largely indebted to individuals, and my words will find an echo in all who knew the late Mr. Ernest Chester Thomas, when I say that never did he exhibit his gifts to such advantage, never did he render such services to the Association, as on this occasion. His courtesy, tact, and good humour all can emulate; the advantages which he enjoyed in finding himself so thoroughly at home could have been shared. by any other member of the University; but the peculiar brightness with which he enlivened and irradiated the proceedings was something quite his own. I must not suffer myself to dwell on other gatherings—all equally agreeable, some almost as memorable; but, lest I seem forgetful of a very important branch of the work of the Association, I must briefly allude to the monthly meetings held in London, where so many valuable papers have been read—subsequently made general property by publication in the Journal of the Association, if originally delivered to audiences probably very fit, certainly very few. It is greatly to be regretted that provincial members cannot participate in these gatherings, but this is practically impossible, save by the annihilation of time and space—the modest request, says Pope, of absent lovers.

I shall now proceed to take up some of the more interesting themes broached at the first meeting of the Association, time not allowing me to proceed further, and to remark upon the progress which may appear to have been made in the interval towards accomplishing the objects then indicated. I shall then venture some brief remarks on the library movement at the present day, as concerns public feeling and public sympathy in their effect on the status of librarianship as a profession. My observations must of course be very desultory and imperfect, for an adequate treatment of these subjects would absorb the entire time of the present meeting. I have also always felt that the President's address, though certainly an indispensable portion of our proceedings, is in one aspect ornamental, and that the real business of a meeting, apart from its legislative and administrative departments, is the reading of papers and the discussion to which these give rise. I hope that these discussions will be, like the Thames, "without o'erflowing, full." Overflow we must not. It will be a great satisfaction to me if, when the meeting is over, it should be found that everything written for it has been heard by it, and that nothing has been "taken as read."

The most important subject introduced at the Conference of 1877 was that of free libraries in small towns, but any remarks which I may offer on this will come more appropriately into a review of the progress which libraries are now making. Next in importance, perhaps, certainly in general interest, were the discussions on cataloguing. In this department I may congratulate the Association on material progress, to which its own labours have, in great measure, contributed. There is much more unanimity than there used to be respecting the principles on which catalogues should be made. Admirable catalogues have been issued, and continue to be kept up by the principal libraries throughout the country, and if now and then some very small and benighted library issues a catalogue whose naïvetés excite derision, such cases are very exceptional. Rules have been promulgated both here and in the United States which have met with general assent, and I do not anticipate that any material departure from them will be made. I only wish to say, as every librarian is naturally supposed to regard his own catalogue as a model, that I do not regard the British Museum Catalogue in this light so far as concerns libraries of average size and type. The requirements of large and small libraries are very different, and that may be quite right in one which would be quite wrong in another. I can, perhaps, scarcely express this difference more accurately than by remarking that while the catalogue of a small, and more especially of a popular, library, should be a finding catalogue, that of a large library representing all departments of literature must be to a great extent a literary catalogue. It is not meant merely to enable the reader to procure his book with the least possible delay, but also to present an epitome of the life-work of every author, and to assist the researches of the literary historian. Hence the explanation and justification of some points which have on specious grounds been objected to in the Museum Catalogue. It has been thought strange, for instance, that anonymous books of which the authorship is known—such as the first editions of the Waverley Novels—should not be entered under the names of the authors. Two excellent reasons may be given: because by so entering the book the character of the catalogue as a bibliographical record would be destroyed; and because by entering one description of anonymous books in one way and another in another, there would be an end to the uniformity of rule which is necessary to prevent a very extensive catalogue from getting into confusion. Another instance is the cataloguing of academical transactions and periodicals under the respective heads of Academies and Periodical Publications, which has been much criticised. It is quite true that the Quarterly Review can be found more easily under that head than under "Periodical Publications, London," but it is also true that the grouping of all academical and all periodical publications under these two great heads is invaluable to the bibliographer, the literary historian, and the statistician, who must be exceedingly thankful that the information of which they are in quest is presented to them in a concentrated form, instead of having to be sought for through an enormous catalogue. These observations do not in any way apply to libraries of an essentially popular character, and I merely make them by way of enforcing the proposition that the works of such libraries and those of national or university libraries are different, and that we must beware of a cast-iron uniformity of rule. There is yet another intermediate class of library, the comparatively small but highly select, such as college and club libraries, which will probably find it more advantageous to pursue an intermediate course, as I imagine they do, judging from the very excellent specimens of cataloguing for which we are indebted to some of them. And there is yet another class, the libraries of the collectors of exceedingly rare literatures, such as the Chatsworth Library, Mr. Huth's, and Mr. Locker-Lampson's. In such catalogues minuteness of bibliographical detail is rightly carried to an extent uncalled for in great miscellaneous catalogues like that of the British Museum, and which, it is to be hoped, may never be attempted there, for if it were it would disorganise the establishment. It is not the business of librarians as public servants to provide recondite bibliographical luxuries. These things are excellent, but they lie in the department of specialists and amateurs, who may be expected to cultivate it in the future as they have done in the past. The limits of public and private enterprise must be kept distinct.

Another question of cataloguing which occupied the attention of the Conference of 1877 was the important one of subject catalogues. In this I am able to announce the most satisfactory progress. In the face of the mass of information continually pouring in, the world has become alive to the importance of condensing, distributing, and rendering generally available the information which it possesses already. Three very remarkable achievements of this kind may be noticed. The first is Poole's Index to Periodicals, with its continuation, a work so invaluable that we now wonder how we could have existed without it, but so laborious that we could hardly have hoped to see it exist at all, especially considering that it is an achievement of co-operative cataloguing. In illustration of the want it supplies, I may mention that it has been found necessary at the British Museum to reproduce the preliminary tables by photography in a number of copies, the originals having been worn to pieces. The next work I shall mention is the subject index to the modern books acquired by the British Museum since 1880—two bulky volumes, prepared in non-official time, with the greatest zeal and devotion, by the superintendent of the Reading Room, Mr. Fortescue, and continued by him to the present time. They are simply invaluable, and it is only to be regretted that they have been issued at too high a price to be generally available to the public. This is not the case with the third publication which I have to mention—the classed catalogue issued by Mr. Swan Sonnenschein, the utility of which is very generally known. A cognate feature of the times is the great comparative attention now paid to indexing, which is sometimes carried to lengths almost ludicrous. The author of a work of information who does not give an index is sure to be called over the coals, and with reason, for how else is the reviewer to pick out the plums unless he actually reads the book? I am not sure that this extreme facilitation of knowledge is in all respects a good thing, but it is at present a necessary thing, and correlated with that prevalence of abridged histories and biographies which it is easy to criticise, but which has at least two good points—the evidence it affords of the existence of a healthy appetite for information among a large reading class, and the fact that information is thus diffused among many to whom it would have been inaccessible under other circumstances.

Connected with the subject of indexes is that of dictionary catalogues, in which the alphabetical and the subject catalogues are found in a single list. I retain the opinion I have always held, that this plan may answer where the library and the catalogue are not extensive, but that where they are, confusion results; the wood cannot be seen for the trees. I therefore recommend the librarian of even a small library, in planning his catalogue, as well as everything else, to make sure whether his library may not be destined to become a great one. Half the difficulties under which great libraries labour arise from the failure to take from the first a sufficiently generous view of the possibilities and prospects of the institution. With this view of dictionary catalogues, it is not likely that they will be adopted at the British Museum, but I have already explained more than once the facilities which the Museum possesses for forming an unequalled series of subject catalogues by simply, when the great general catalogue has been printed, cutting up copies printed on one side only, and arranging them in a number of indexes. There is no doubt that the Museum can amply provide for its own needs in this manner, and thus remove the reproach under which it has always laboured, and still labours, of having no subject catalogue except Mr. Fortescue's. The question is whether the indexes thus created are to become available for the service of libraries and students all over the world by being published and circulated. The solution of this question rests with the Government, and I have alluded to it here principally in the hope of eliciting that expression of public opinion without which Government is hardly likely to act. The question will probably become an actual one towards the end of the present century.

Mention of this question naturally leads to another, which occasioned one of the most interesting discussions of the Conference of 1877—the subject of the British Museum in its relation to provincial culture. This was ably introduced by our friend Mr. Axon, who dwelt especially on two points in which provincial culture could be promoted by the Museum—the distribution of duplicates and the printing of the catalogue. On both these I am enabled to announce the most satisfactory progress since they were ventilated in 1877. As regards the distribution of duplicates, indeed, further progress is impossible, for we have distributed all we can spare. The subject was energetically taken up by the present Principal Librarian, Mr. Maunde Thompson, shortly after his accession to office, and the result has been that almost all the principal libraries throughout the country have received important benefactions from the Museum. Libraries of the rank of the Bodleian and the Guildhall have, of course, received the first consideration; but nearly all have had some accession, and in some instances provision has been made for a regular supply of duplicate parliamentary papers. Since the distribution of these duplicates the opportunity has further presented itself, through the extensive purchases made at the sale of the Hailstone Library, for enriching Yorkshire libraries with duplicate tracts relating to that county, and I am sure that the trustees will readily avail themselves of any subsequent occasions. I am aware that some think that distribution might be carried even further, but I am certain that this is not the case. We are bound in honour not to give any presented books; valuable presented books must be protected by second copies; copyright books cannot be parted with because receipts have been given for them which, if the books disappeared, there would be nothing to justify, while the books and the stamp showing the date of reception may be required for legal purposes; finally, the international copyright which used to provide the Museum with so many duplicates of foreign books has now become utterly extinct in consequence of the Berne Convention. The progress made in the far more important department of the printing of the catalogue is already well known to you. I have been able to give the Association a satisfactory report of progress on two occasions, and I am now able to state that we have entered into letter P. Some important gaps remain to be filled up, but on the other hand the latter part of the catalogue is printed and published from U to the end. If the Treasury continues its aid, I have little doubt that the whole will be published some time before the end of the century. Mr. Axon certainly did not exaggerate the value which such a publication would possess for general culture, and I am only sorry that it is not as yet properly recognised. Every large town ought to have a copy of the Museum Catalogue, and the supply of the accession parts ought to be regularly kept up. It is too late now to do what might have been done if the importance of the undertaking had been recognised from the first: but the oversight can soon be repaired if the catalogue is reprinted as soon as completed, with the inclusion of all the additional titles that have since grown up. The edition can then be made as large as is necessary to accommodate every important town in the United Kingdom. But this will not be done without the application of considerable pressure to the Government, and this will not come without a much more general interest on the part of the public than there is any reason to suppose exists at present. This might, however, be created by judicious stimulus, which must come in the first instance from librarians, who, though not collectively a highly influential body, have many means of privately influencing persons of weight, and making themselves directly and indirectly heard in the public press.

I will take the opportunity of adding a few words for the honour of a late eminent librarian. In the numerous papers which I have written on the subject of the Museum Catalogue, I have always made a point of bringing forward the inestimable services of the late Principal Librarian, Mr. Edward Augustus Bond, in relation to it. Everything which I have said I repeat. Without Mr. Bond the catalogue would not now exist in print, or its appearance would at any rate have been indefinitely deferred. In examining, however, nonofficial papers, I have lately ascertained that Mr. Thomas Watts, one of my predecessors as Keeper of Printed Books, advocated the printing of the catalogue as early as 1855. Like myself, when I recommended printing, not on abstract grounds, but from the impossibility of any longer finding space for the catalogue in the Reading Room, Mr. Watts was led to adopt his view by collateral considerations, which it would take too much time to explain now, but which will be understood when I publish his paper, which I purpose doing. Meanwhile I am glad to have paid this passing tribute to the memory of the most learned and the most widely informed librarian that the Museum or the country ever possessed.

Speaking of the publication of Museum catalogues since the foundation of this Association, I ought not to forget that of the early English books prior to 1640, edited by Mr. Bullen; or that of the maps, edited by Professor Douglas; or the various catalogues of Oriental books and manuscripts. The latter, prepared by Dr. Rieu, are treasures of information, very much more than ordinary catalogues.

Another subject was introduced at the Conference of 1877, which admits of wider development than any of those already mentioned, and in which very much more remains to be done. I allude to the question of the employment of photography as an auxiliary to bibliography, broached by our lamented friend the late Mr. Henry Stevens, in his paper on "Photo-Bibliography." Though the ideas suggested by Mr. Stevens were highly ingenious, they were perhaps better adapted for development by private enterprise than by library organisations. But they led up directly to another matter of much greater importance, which I had myself the honour of bringing before the Dublin Conference—the feasibility of making book-photography national by the creation of a photographic department at the British Museum. I need not repeat at length what was then said by myself and other speakers respecting the immense advantage of providing a ready and cheap means for the reproduction of books in facsimile, by which rare books and perishing manuscripts could be multiplied to any extent; by which press copies could be provided at a nominal expense for anything that it was desired to reprint; by which legal documents could be placed beyond the reach of injury, and the vexed question of the custody of parish registers solved for ever; by which a great system of international exchange could be established for the historical manuscripts of all countries. The one point which cannot be too often repeated or enforced is that the essence of the scheme consists in the abolition of the private photographer, at present an inevitable and most useful individual, but who is sadly in the way of larger public interests. So long as a private profit has to be made, photography cannot be cheap. Transfer this duty to a public officer paid by a public salary, and the chief element of expense has disappeared; while the slight expense of this salary and cost of material, if it is thought worth while to insist upon its repayment, will be repaid over and over by a trifling charge imposed upon the public. Our Association took the matter up, but nothing tangible has as yet resulted from its efforts, nor can much be fairly expected. We are not a body adapted for public agitation, nor can we be; we have too little influence as individuals; as a corporation we are too dispersed; our general meetings are necessarily infrequent; we want organisation and momentum. Nevertheless, very important progress in this direction may be recorded, or I should not have been able to include it in my address. It is due to the University of Oxford, which has established a photographic department in connection with the Bodleian Library and the University Press, which has shown the practicability of the undertaking, and has already rendered important services to private persons and public institutions, the British Museum among the latter. We are as yet far from the ideal, for the University must of necessity make a higher charge than would be requisite in a Government department, which might indeed be but nominal. But an important step has been taken, and Oxford will always have the honour of having taken the lead in the systematic application of photography to library purposes, as the sister University has that of having been the first, not merely to print a catalogue but to keep a catalogue up in print.

Another subject which naturally attracted the attention of the Association from the first was that of binding. There are few matters of more consequence, and the increasing degeneracy of the bindings of ordinary books, as issued by the publishers, renders it of more importance to librarians than ever. This deterioration is, of course, likely to extend to books bound for libraries, if librarians are not very vigilant. I was amused the other day with the remark of an American librarian, that he bound his newspapers in brown. I thought he exercised a wise discretion, for the newspapers which were bound in green at the Museum have become brown, like the withered leaf, and might as well have been so from the first. I do not know that any important progress has been made in ordinary binding, although our American friends, in their Library Journal, are continually giving us ingenious hints which may prove very useful. The buckram recommended by Mr. Nicholson has, I think, maintained its ground; we use it to some extent at the Museum, and are well satisfied. Goatskin also has been recently employed; it is a beautiful binding, but liable to injury when a volume is subjected to much wear and tear—a point which should always be carefully considered before the binding of a book is decided upon. The better descriptions of cloth seem to be improved, and very recommendable for books in moderate use. I am continually struck with the excellence of the vellum bindings we get from abroad, especially of old books, and wish very much that means could be found of cheapening this most excellent material. In one very important description of binding–roan and sheepskin–I fear we are going back; not from any fault of the binders, but from the conditions of modern life. I am informed that owing to the early age at which the lives of sheep are now prematurely terminated, it is impossible to obtain sheepskin of the soundness requisite for binding purposes, and that books for which it is used must be expected to wear out much sooner than formerly. It is also said, however, that this does not apply to the sheep slaughtered in Australia and New Zealand, and if this is the case it may be worth the while of librarians and bookbinders to enter into communication with the farmers of those parts, through the medium of the Colonial Agents General or otherwise.

Any positive progress that can be reported in binding rather relates to the study, appreciation, and reproduction of old and precious bindings, especially of foreign countries, and is mainly summed up in the record of the exhibitions of bindings which have been held here, the literary labours of Miss Prideaux and others, the numerous splendid reproductions in chromo-lithography, published or to be published here or abroad, and the tasteful designs of Mr. Zaehnsdorf, Mr. Cobden-Sanderson, and other artists in this branch, which I am glad to see encouraged by the Arts and Crafts Exhibition. The very deterioration of the bindings for the many, to which I have had occasion to refer, stimulates the production of choice bindings for the few. Liberal patronage will not be wanting, and there is no reason why we should not have among us now Bedfords, Roger Paynes, and even craftsmen of a more purely artistic type. Among the signs of the times in this respect is to be noted the establishment of the Grolier Club at New York, celebrated for the admirable examples it has collected, and the interest and value of its publications.

There is another subject which came before the Conference of 1877, which, but for our American friends, I should be unable to include in my survey without infringing my principle of touching upon those subjects alone in which substantial progress can be reported. It is that of co-operative cataloguing, the subject of a note by M. Depping, and indirectly of the late Mr. Cornelius Walford's paper on a general catalogue of English literature. The success of Poole's Index has proved that co-operative cataloguing, or at least indexing, is feasible. I doubt if there is another instance, except one—a work of great national importance, whose long condition of suspended animation and eventual successful prosecution eloquently evince under what conditions co-operation is practicable or impracticable. This is Dr. Murray's great English dictionary, originally a project of the Philological Society. Until Dr. Murray was invented, the Philological Society could do nothing. The scheme absolutely required some one of competent ability who would go into it heart and soul, sacrifice everything else to it, and devote his whole time to it. When such a man was found in Dr. Murray it is astonishing how soon willing co-workers abounded, and how readily the mass of unorganised material already collected was got into shape. So it will be, I believe, with all co-operative schemes. They will require a head, a single directing mind. Whether this will be forthcoming for the very useful work projected by the Association, the completion of the British Museum Catalogue of early English printed books by the preparation of a supplementary catalogue of such of these books as are not in the Museum, is to me problematical, but time will show. I am, for my part, of opinion that the undertaking had better be delayed until the publication of the second edition of the Museum Catalogue, which it is intended to issue as soon as the printing of the general catalogue is complete, as this would considerably abridge the labour of preparing the supplement. I have already, in the paper read at Paris last year, expressed my opinion that the Museum Catalogue, when complete, will afford the only practicable basis for the far more important and extensive undertaking of a universal catalogue. Success in such an undertaking would indeed be the triumph of successful co-operation, but when the enormous difficulties of establishing co-operation among the libraries, not of a single country only, but of the whole civilised world, are considered, the difficulty may well appear insuperable, until the various countries shall have approximated much more nearly to the condition of a single country than they have done as yet. Such, however, is the unquestionable tendency of the times, depending upon causes which, so far as can be foreseen, appear likely to operate with augmented intensity, and this movement may proceed far enough to eventually bring with it the universal catalogue along with the universal language, the universal coin, and the universal stamp. Till within a short time ago I had reason to believe that a co-operative catalogue, which I myself proposed several years ago, was on the point of being undertaken. Some may remember that I once read a paper at a London monthly meeting on the preparation of an index of subjects to the Royal Society's catalogue of scientific papers, without which that great store of information is in a measure useless. This paper was re-published in Nature, the idea was taken up by Mr. Collins of Edgbaston, the compiler of the indexes to Herbert Spencer's works, and a few weeks ago success seemed about to crown his efforts. I now learn with regret that the scientific men who met in conclave on the project have not been able to agree, and I suppose it will remain in abeyance until some Hercules-Littré arises and does it by himself.

Want of time precludes me from dwelling at length upon any other subjects than those brought forward at the first Conference of our Association. A brief enumeration, however, of some of the additional subjects discussed at ensuing meetings, to within the ten years immediately preceding our last meeting, will be serviceable as showing the extent of its activity, and, did time permit, it would be possible to show that satisfactory progress has been made in many of the directions indicated. At Oxford, in 1878, besides recurring to many of the themes previously treated, the Conference discussed the condition of cathedral and provincial libraries, printing and printers in provincial towns, size-notation, and, most interesting of all, the salaries of librarians. At Manchester, in 1883, it considered the consolidation and amendment of the Public Libraries Acts, the grouping of populous places for library purposes, the free library in the connection which it has or should have with the Board School, the extent to which novels should be permitted in free libraries, and security against fire. In 1880, at Edinburgh, the libraries of Scotland, and early printing in Scotland, were the subjects of valuable communications, as were press and shelf notation; copyrights, the disposal of duplicates, and the subject which may be said to lie at the root of all the rest, "The Librarian and his Work." In 1881, at London, besides important subjects previously discussed, we heard of law libraries and library buildings. In 1882, at Cambridge, a meeting ever to be remembered for the hospitality and kindness of our distinguished and lamented President—Henry Bradshaw—the Association heard for the first time of progress actually made in printing the British Museum Catalogue, and papers were read on the all-important subject of librarianship as a profession; on the work of the nineteenth-century librarian for the librarian of the twentieth; on public documents and their supply to public libraries; on local bibliography; on the cataloguing of periodicals and academical publications; and on electric lighting.

Here I suspend my survey, but I think quite enough has been said to indicate the number and importance of the subjects taken up by the Association, while the present condition of some of them, compared with that which they held before they had become subjects of public discussion, proves that the Association's labours have not been in vain in the past, and the rapid development of library work on all sides proves equally that there need be no apprehension of the failure of material for its discussions in the future.

I may fitly conclude my address with some notice of this decided increase of interest in libraries, especially as it relates to free libraries; of the effect which it may be expected to produce upon the status of our profession, and of the claims encouraged and the duties imposed in consequence. Before coming to this division of my subject, however, I ought, as this address is mainly retrospective, to record briefly some exceedingly gratifying occurrences which the historian of libraries will have to note. First among them I place two munificent benefactions—Mr. Carnegie's gift of fifty thousand pounds to the people of Edinburgh towards the formation of a public library, and Mrs. Rylands' establishment of the Spencer Library, worth probably nearly a quarter of a million, in the city of Manchester. The first is an instance of that public spirit not unknown here, but I fear less known than in the United States, which in that country frequently takes the form of library donation or endowment, but here seldom enters that channel except when a generous employer, like Mr. Brunner of Northwich, builds a library mainly for his workpeople. The second instance is almost unprecedented. Donations of money for library purposes are not infrequent, but that a public benefactor like Mrs. Rylands should purchase a famous library at an enormous expense only to make it a public library immediately afterwards, and should moreover take upon herself the entire cost of the requisite buildings, and provide it with a staff and funds for its further extension, are indeed an unprecedented series of occurrences. I need not say that had Mrs. Rylands purchased Lord Spencer's Library solely for herself, we should still have been under deep obligation to her for preventing the books from going out of the country. As it is, she has not only laid Britain under infinite obligation, but I hope will prove to have in the long run raised the standard of bibliographical research throughout the country, both by bringing together so many bibliographical treasures, and by her eminently judicious choice of a librarian. In this connection I may pass on to another event of moment—the recent foundation of a Bibliographical Society through the untiring exertions of Mr. Copinger. It is very gratifying to find that the constituents of such a society exist in a country where exact bibliography has been so little cultivated, and there can be no doubt of the extent and interest of the field which is open to such a body.

The spread of a taste for bibliography is further illustrated by the fact that an enterprising publisher has found it worth while to produce a series of bibliographical manuals under the able editorship of Mr. Alfred Pollard, and that these have amply repaid him. I may further notice the recent appearance of two works of great importance to English bibliography: Professor Arber's transcripts of the registers of the Stationers' Company, now on the point of completion, and the supplement to Allibone's Dictionary of English Authors. Two great advances in library construction also call for a word of recognition; the introduction of the sliding press at the British Museum, which indefinitely adjourns the ever-pressing question of additional space both in this and in every other library to which it can be adapted; and the general employment of the electric light, which insures libraries against the worst enemy of all. While touching on library construction, I must briefly allude to a very remarkable Decent publication, the article "Bibliotheca" in the German Cyclopaedia of Architecture. This exhaustive disquisition is illustrated with a number of views of libraries in all parts of the world; not merely of their plans and elevations, their stately saloons and commodious reading rooms, but of the most humble details of library furniture. It ought to be translated.[2]

I have now to offer some concluding observations on the present prospects of the library movement, as it affects our country and ourselves. In both points of view there is, I think, much matter for congratulation. We have progressed very decidedly since the period to which I have been carrying you back in retrospect. As is often the case, the foundation of this Association was both a symptom and a cause. It indicated the existence of a feeling that libraries had not hitherto occupied that position in public esteem which they ought to have; it further powerfully contributed to secure this due position for them. I think they are obtaining it. We cannot but be conscious of a wave of public feeling slowly rising, the action of which is visible in the establishment of new libraries, in the adoption of the Free Libraries Act by communities which had long resisted it, in improved library buildings and appliances, in acts of munificence like Mr. Carnegie's and Mrs. Rylands's, and as a natural consequence, in the improved salaries and status of librarians. I am aware that very much remains to be done in this latter respect. No one can more earnestly desire that the librarian's position were better than it is. It would not only be a boon to the individual, but a sign full of hope for the community. We are progressing, but we must progress much further. The key of the position seems to me the restrictions imposed upon rates for library purposes. If we could obtain more freedom for the ratepayers in this respect, and, which would be much more difficult, persuade them to use it when they had it, our free libraries might be in general what some of the more favoured actually are. It is discouraging indeed to observe in a not very wealthy community, when all necessary expenses have been met, including the librarian's very inadequate salary, what a ridiculous trifle remains for the acquisition of books.

There is only one way to obtain the desired end—to convince the public that they are getting value for their money. The utility of the public library must be visible to all men. It must be recognised as an indispensable element of culture, and it must be shown, which is unfortunately more difficult, that it is actually subserving this end, not only for a few persons here and there, but for a considerable proportion of the population. I am not opposing the admission of fiction into public libraries, but it is evident that if fiction constitutes the larger portion of the literature in request, the average ratepayer will not think, nor ought he to think, that any case has been made out for his inserting his hands more deeply into his pockets. I am quite aware, of course, that librarians individually can do but little in this direction. Whatever can be done should be done, for the entire case of the librarian in claiming respect from the community and the material advantages concatenated therewith is that he is, in however humble a measure, a priest of literature and science; as truly, though not as ostensibly, a public instructor as if he occupied the chair of a professor. Let him endeavour to live up to this character, and in proportion as the community itself becomes conscious of its shortcomings and its needs, the librarian's estimation will rise and his position improve. We need not despair; like Wordsworth's imprisoned patriot, "we have great allies." The library movement itself is merely the fringe of a great intellectual upheaval, most visibly personified in the School Boards which now cover the country, but also obvious in many other directions. This upheaval will elevate libraries along with it, if they really are the instruments of intellectual culture we firmly believe them to be. Let us ally ourselves with those concerned in the diffusion of these educational agencies. Many of them feel, I know, that schools ought to be the highway to something better, and that even if public school instruction could be accepted as sufficient for the citizen, much of it is inevitably lost from the divorce from all intellectual life which too commonly supervenes when the boy leaves school. But, if the school have but instilled a love of reading, the library steps in to take its place:—

"Chalice to bright wine
Which else had sunk into the thirsty earth."

Let the librarian but recognise his true position, and eventually he must find his true level. I do not think that librarians as a body are chargeable with insensibility to their duties in this respect; but it does need to be kept before their fellow-citizens, whose ideas of the profession—derived from tradition, and from personal experience among some of its inferior branches—are naturally different from those which obtain among ourselves. The librarian will therefore do well to interest himself in useful and philanthropic movements, avoiding, of course, anything tinged with party spirit, political or religious. If he is a vegetarian, or a theosophist, or anything that begins with anti, let him be so unobtrusively.

I must not conclude without mentioning an incident connected with our profession, which has recently given me great pleasure—the acquaintance I was enabled to make with the students of the Library School, mostly young assistants in provincial libraries, on their visit to London last summer. I received a most favourable impression of their modesty, intelligence, eagerness to learn, and general interest in their calling. This bodes well for the librarians of the future. I trust that they and all of us, and all whom the profession may receive into their ranks from other sources, will labour to preserve that high ideal of the librarian as a minister of culture, and no less that other possession, which our Association—if it did not actually create—has so greatly fostered that it may almost be looked upon as its creation, the feeling of fellowship and esprit de corps. We do not meet merely to read papers and exchange ideas, and provide for our administrative arrangements, but to encourage and renovate something "better than all treasures that in books are found"—the consciousness of mutual interest, and the feeling of mutual regard, which will, I trust, be found reflected in the harmony and business-like conduct of our present meeting.

  1. Aberdeen, September 1893.
  2. It has since been used in Mr. Burgoyne's volume on Library Architecture.