Friday, August 30, 2013

Teaching "Johnny Jones" how to handle books

Yesterday afternoon, my head began to nod sleepily as I slogged through a hand-search of Pennsylvania Library Notes. After a long day of using Scranton newspapers on microfilm, I was searching in vain for early articles about summer reading programs. I had bad cases of flat butt, stooped shoulder, and sore eye. Just when I began to consider quitting for the day, I found a fascinating poem published in the July 1914 issue. Below is a reproduction in its entirety:









"An Indignation Meeting" by Charlotte E. Shields, published in the July 1914 issue of Pennsylvania Library Notes




























Likely, the author was the same Charlotte Shields who was head librarian at the S. D. Himmelreich Memorial Library in Lewisburg (now the Public Library for Union County). Her poem is evidence of one of early librarians' greatest woes: teaching children the proper handling of books.

Over the course of 9 years of research, I have stumbled upon countless complaints on this topic, but none is expressed so succinctly or delightfully. Here we read all the common charges against the library's littlest patrons: eating over their books, handling them with grubby fingers, breaking spines and scrawling on pages, tossing them on the floor, and allowing younger brother or sister to rip them apart. Like many moral texts intended for youngsters, it tries to engage their own senses of vulnerability and sympathy by anthropomorphizing what might otherwise seem like unfeeling "hardbacks" on the library's shelves. I especially love the signatures of book characters, each written in a unique hand and illustrative of the most popular children's titles of the day. After rubbing my eyes, leaning back, and enjoying Shields' work, I felt completely renewed. The joy in rediscovering such interesting artifacts is what really makes my project worthwhile.



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