16 AUGUST 1930, Page 5

The Prophylactic of Books

WHEN Robert Lowe remarked, after the passing of the Franchise Act its 1867, " Now we must educate our new masters," he was suspected of cynicism. There may have been a tincture of sarcasm in his utterance ; it was the soundest of truths, nevertheless. Unfortunately it was acted upon slowly. The education measure of 1870 gathered those who would be the next generation of voters into schools where they were taught to read and write. But until nearly the end of the century it occurred to scarcely anybody that it was necessary to provide books and periodicals which should continue their education by energizing their intelligence and teaching them to think. Those who first catered for the mass of men and women who poured out of the schools ready to be influenced one way or the other had no aim beyond making money. No politician, no divine, no philosopher saw that the urgent need of the time was the provision of wholesome, strengthening food for the mind of the " new masters " of Britain. Or if they saw it they did not proclaim it to the world. No wonder that Gladstone " reflected painfully" upon the lethargy of " the leisured classes, the educated classes, the wealthy classes," and declared that "the common people —the toilers, the men of uncommon sense—have been responsible for nearly all social reform measures." Such efforts as were made to publish the best books cheaply were made by small men. A few University dons and others helped to found the Workers' Educational Association. The Public Library Movement, which began as an effort to keep " the lower orders " out of public houses, and which is to celebrate its eightieth birthday next month, went forward in the teeth of sneers and of bitter opposition to library rates.

It is firmly established now, and we can look back with amusement rather than anger at-the convulsive struggles of those who resented the idea that communities should supply themselves by co-operation with books which their members could not afford to buy individually. More profitable than denouncing these short-sighted enemies of light is grateful remembrance of the men - who helped the movement on—such men as William Ewart, Thomas Greenwood, Passmore Edwards, and Andrew Carnegie. To the wise and persistent generosity of

the last two named we owe many of the two thousand Public Libraries that exist to-day in England, Scotland, and Wales. Nor does our obligation to them cud there. For the Public Library suggested the County Library, and there are now some five thousand centres in the rural districts at which villagers can borrow books instead of being dependent, as most of them used to be, upon Sunday and local newspapers, with perhaps a weekly budget of scraps when they could afford it. Kent has been especially active in this direction. In eight years, we are told by a report just issued, library centres have been set up in all villages throughout the county with a population over 1,000—excepting four villages which have not asked to be served, an unenviable distinction ! A number of towns arc also supplied with books and buildings, and last year the number of volumes lent ran up to one million two hundred and twenty-three thousand, an advance of a quarter of a million on the figures for 1928. Many a student has reason to be thankful for the travelling county libraries as well as general readers. Upon request, almost any book is bought and circulated. The notion still cherished by a good many backward-looking people that those who borrow from public libraries mostly want the feebler kind of fiction is emphatically denied by the Chief Librarian of the Croydon Libraries in a book published lately.* " For many years," he says, " this opinion has been false."

It is partly due to delusions of this nature, and partly to the prejudice still active against spending public money on intellectual and spiritual advantages, that in many places—in London especially—the public libraries arc not always given the prominence which their importance deserves. A lady who has recently returned from South Africa wrote to us the other day a letter of comment upon this. It took her a long time to find the library in Smith Street, Westminster. With the aid of a policeman she at last discovered " a small board hidden in a corner with nearly obliterated lettering " to show where it was. Another complaint this correspondent makes is that libraries are closed at eight o'clock " just when all thinking

The U858 of Libraries. Edited by Ernest A. Baker. (University of London, Press. 12s. 6d.)

people of the masses need them." In South Africa, she says, they are open until 10.30 at night. Since those for whom they are provided are the workers, occupied all day, there seems much to be said for keeping them open as late as possible. It would even be better to begin the service later—say at noon instead of ten o'clock—if the obstacle to later closing be the need for more librarians. Or appeal might be made for voluntary help during the late hours. There are many who would gladly offer this form of comradeship and who would value the oppor- tunity of talking about books to the many readers, young and old, w ho are discovering the right use to which a library can be put. The whole future of democracy, which is still in the experimental stage, hangs on the education of the world's " new masters." If their intelligence is not developed, if they continue to interest themselves only spasmodically in their own public con- cerns, if they are bemused by catchwords and exploited by windy rhetoricians, their mastership will assuredly be taken from them as it has been in Italy and elsewhere. Against tyrannies of the Fascist and Bolshevik kind nothing but widespread education can prevail. There are many thoughtful Indians who fear that independence too hurriedly gained might, with so vast a population lacking even rudimentary acquaintance with problems of government, land them in local despotisms of varying competence and severity, but all of a totally undemo- cratic character.

Recently, an Indian reader of the Spectator wrote from Calcutta deploring the absence of any organization " to study and cater for India's particular choice and needs " in the matter of books by English authors, upon which, as he says, Indians mainly depend for instruction and recre- ation both. These books are too dear to be bought in large numbers, and the libraries that exist cannot stock them in large enough quantities to meet the demand. Our correspondent mentions that books by Shaw, Wells and Galsworthy are sometimes booked for two or three months in advance and that large numbers who long to make acquaintance with all that is best in modern litera- ture are unable to do so because nothing is done to provide India with cheap editions. There is a vast market for books that are within the means of poor men, but " this has been allowed too long to be exploited meanly for immediate profits. Much absolute rubbish is fed to this great hunger and still more adulterated food." Here is a problem quite as urgent as the direction of the taste of readers in Britain towards reading that nourishes a well- informed good sense. That Indians are to be sooner or later the " new masters " of their country is certain. They need educating for their responsibilities not less than our people at home. Libraries are required there, too in the meantime would it be impossible to print Indian editions of English books on the lines of the Tauchnitz and other series ? The plan is at least worth considering. It is suggested that " considerable profit can be made because of large-scale sale even if the books are priced very low." As a contribution to the process advocated by Robert Lowe this would be valuable. The more we disseminate here and everywhere else the best that has been and is being thought and written, the surer prophy- lactic we have against catastrophe, the more certainly shall we avoid the perils which lurk about the footsteps of to-day. .