What Can be Done for Public Education
July 18, 1913
There are quite a number of rotten prejudices current in the Western countries of which Holy Mother Russia is free. They assume there, for instance, that huge public libraries containing hundreds of thousands and millions of volumes, should certainly not be reserved only for the handful of scholars or would-be scholars that uses them. Over there they have set themselves the strange, incomprehensible and barbaric aim of making these gigantic, boundless libraries available, not to a guild of scholars, professors and other such specialists, but to the masses, to the crowd, to the mob!
What a desecration of the libraries! What an absence of the “law and order” we are so justly proud of. Instead of regulations, discussed and elaborated by a dozen committees of civil servants inventing hundreds of formalities and obstacles to the use of books, they see to it that even children can make use of the rich collections; that readers can read publicly-owned books at home; they regard as the pride and glory of a public library, not the number of rarities it contains, the number of sixteenth-century editions or tenth-century manuscripts, but the extent to which books are distributed among the people, the number of new readers enrolled, the speed with which the demand for any book is met, the number of books issued to be read at home, the number of children attracted to reading and to the use of the library…. These queer prejudices are widespread in the Western states, and we must be glad that those who keep watch and ward over us protect us with care and circumspection from the influence of these prejudices, protect our rich public libraries from the mob, from the hoi polloi!
I have before me the report of the New York Public Library for 1911.
That year the Public Library in New York was moved from two old buildings to new premises erected by the city. The total number of books is now about two million. It so happened that the first book asked for when the reading-room opened its doors was in Russian. It was a work by N. Grot, The Moral Ideals of Our Times. The request for the book was handed in at eight minutes past nine in the morning. The book was delivered to the reader at nine fifteen.
In the course of the year the library was visited by 1,658,376 people. There were 246,950 readers using the reading-room and they took out 911,891 books.
This, however, is only a small part of the book circulation effected by the library. Only a few people can visit the library. The rational organisation of educational work is measured by the number of books issued to be read at home, by the conveniences available to the majority of the population.
In three boroughs of New York—Manhatten, Bronx and Richmond—the New York Public Library has forty-two branches and will soon have a forty-third (the total population of the three boroughs is almost three million). The aim that is constantly pursued is to have a branch of the Public Library within three-quarters of a verst, i.e., within ten minutes’ walk of the house of every inhabitant, the branch library being the centre of all kinds of institutions and establishments for public education.
Almost eight million (7,914,882 volumes) were issued to readers at home, 400,000 more than in 1910. To each hundred members of the population of all ages and both sexes, 267 books were issued for reading at home in the course of the year.
Each of the forty-two branch libraries not only provides for the use of reference books in the building and the issue of books to be read at home, it is also a place for evening lectures, for public meetings and for rational entertainment.
The New York Public Library contains about 15,000 books in oriental languages, about 20,000 in Yiddish and about 16,000 in the Slav languages. In the main reading-room there are about 20,000 books standing on open shelves for general use.
The New York Public Library has opened a special, central, reading-room for children, and similar institutions are gradually being opened at all branches. The librarians do everything for the children’s convenience and answer their questions. The number of books children took out to read at home was 2,859,888, slightly under three million (more than a third of the total). The number of children visiting the reading-room was 1,120,915.
As far as losses are concerned—the New York Public Library assesses the number of books lost at 70–80–90 per 100,000 issued to be read at home.
Such is the way things are done in New York. And in Russia?
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 277-279.