Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 20.djvu/718

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698
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

that may ultimately destroy the pernicious system now so widely deplored, but from which escape is generally held to be most hopeless? Professor Smith well observes: "Such an agreement as would be fatal to the standing organization of civil discord is by no means out of the question; to it tends the advance of political science and the scientific spirit generally, which, gradually making its way in all spheres, is not likely to leave politics untouched. . . . In fine, as has been already said, the best and indeed the only possible form of government, if the advocates of party are to be believed, is one, the foundation of which must inevitably be weakened by every advance of the public intelligence, and which the attainment of truth on the great political questions will bring utterly to the ground."

 

 

FREE CIRCULATING LIBRARIES.

In that great work of popular education to which the present age is committed, the importance of books and libraries is sufficiently recognized, although the practical measures for making these instrumentalities available are, as yet, far from being perfected. The object has hitherto been, rather to get together extensive collections of books, with as many as possible that are rare and expensive, and place them in monumental buildings, that may be at the same time ornaments to the town and memorials of the munificence of founders and donors. Such institutions are invaluable, but they are by no means adequate to do the most important work which libraries are capable of accomplishing. They meet the wants of scholars, of people of leisure and cultivation, and they are also generally available to all classes who prize books sufficiently to take a certain amount of trouble in obtaining them. But there is a very large portion of the population in cities who from various causes are practically hindered from making use of these large libraries. To multitudes the expense of membership is a serious objection, and there are other multitudes who are both capable of reading and willing to read, but who do not care enough about it to make the little effort necessary to render such libraries useful to them. They are indifferent, perhaps dull, and can only be reached by removing every possible impediment to the procurement of books; and it is this class, moreover, which most needs the improvement that may be obtained by habitual reading. Of our common school system this, at any rate, may be said, that it teaches the mass of the people to read, and thus brings them to a point where further cultivation is possible; but if it has been necessary to resort to compulsory education to overcome the disinclination for even learning to read, it is surely a matter of moment to make the utmost possible provision for the general encouragement of the habit of reading as a means of continued mental cultivation.

Influenced by such considerations, a few persons have recently combined, in New York, to take an efficient step in this direction. They began in a small and experimental way, but the results of the trial they have made have been in a high degree satisfactory and promising. Rooms were taken in Bond Street, and a few books collected—some by purchase and some by donations—to be lent out free of expense to anybody and everybody who wished them, the only requirement being that some reference should be given, to satisfy the librarian that the borrower had a fixed residence. It was no sooner known that books were thus obtainable, than the applications for them increased until they met the full measure of the supply, and the effort was proved in every respect successful. In the report of the trustees, recently issued, it is said:

The library now contains 5,085 volumes. A very large proportion of these have been contributed by friends of the library, and