The people of Columbia need to realize in some practical way that most of their school buildings are lacking in several essentials of a modern school building. In a modern school building the reading room, or the library room, is just as important as class recitation rooms. One of the most capable teachers in any building should be in charge of the reading room. Upon her, perhaps more than upon any other teacher, rests the opportunity and responsibility for directing the study and the general reading of the entire school. No mere office woman or second rate teacher has any place in a reading room as its director. This teacher must know books, must know how to use books effectively, and must understand how to bring boys and girls to appreciate books.
It has been said that we spend from five to ten years teaching our children to read, then give them either nothing to read or perhaps worse than nothing. There is more than a grain of truth in this statement. After having been taught the mechanics of reading, and having been given some taste for reading, children are often left to find their own literature. When people have learned to read and have acquired some taste for reading they are going to find something to read, and, if left without guidance, the chances are about equal between the wholesome and the trashy. Never before has there been so great need of guidance in the selection of books and magazines for youth. Our book counters and magazine stands are literally groaning beneath loads of trash, suggestive slime, and downright filth masquerading as literature. This putrid mass would never be written, were it not published and sold, and it would never be published and sold, were it not eagerly snatched up and read. It is worse than useless to cry out against a salacious magazine article or a rotten book, especially by name. An outcry against such magazine or book sends to the book stand men, women, boys and girls who otherwise might never have heard of it. The remedy seems to lie in supplying wholesome books and clean magazines in the schools and in the homes, and using them wisely and discreetly. Columbians need to be convinced that as a community we are not a reading people. The meagerness of our school libraries and the extremely modest semi-municipal library bear witness against us as a people.
Although our school libraries are small, they possess a creditable number of effective volumes. These collections are the result of the efforts of the school board, the principals, many of the teachers, and some of the parent-teacher associations. The most valuable school library is not necessarily the one with the largest number of titles on its shelves. The value depends rather upon the duplication of the best books. A thousand volumes representing one hundred well selected titles would perhaps better serve a school than would a thousand volumes representing a thousand titles. There are few places where a youngster is more sorely tempted to hurtful dissipation than in a library when left to browse unguided. Young readers should be constantly reminded that skimming and skipping through many volumes is destructive of serious and logical thinking. Old St. Thomas Aquinas when asked in what manner a man might best become learned, answered, "By reading one book.." The wisdom of that remark might be demonstrated at any time in a public library. Not long since my attention was called to an advertised contest in which a prize was offered to the youngster who would in a given time read and report on the largest number of books taken from a given collection. How would it do to offer a prize to that youngster who would in a given time eat the greatest quantity or variety of fruit from a given fruit stand? The latter would doubtless produce a case of physical indigestion; the former would likely produce mental indigestion.
While I am about it I am constrained to enter a serious protest against a very common practice in our high schools, and some other institutions. I refer to that very common practice of stimulating and requiring students of immature capacity for grasping the pages of a book to desultory skimming through chapters and volumes in the name of parallel reading. Much of the required parallel reading is done with the mistaken notion that it sounds comprehensive. The results in many instances are hasty reading, indefinite gleanings, and crude thinking. Voluminous parallel reading, when required of immature boys and girls, is the mark of the unseasoned teacher, the resort of the uncertain teacher, or the subterfuge of the lazy one. To be sure, this is not a wholesale denunciation of parallel reading. Such reading within reasonable limits, with definite aims, under careful direction, and by mature minds, is exceedingly valuable.
There is yet another phase of the school library which demands attention. Those who select the books often seem to forget that a book may be entirely wholesome but unattractive. These persons often, no doubt, wonder why certain volumes stand year after year on the library shelves untouched. These persons overlook the fact that the books which held them as youngsters far into the night may have no appeal to their children. Any man or woman of fifty years of age might mention the titles of a half hundred volumes, attractive in their own young days but never touched today. It was as reasonable to expect a red-blooded boy of today to be fascinated by some good books of the late 80's or the early 90's as to enjoy wearing a pair of trousers of the vintage of the 80's. One could as easily persuade a conservative girl of sixteen to rig herself out in a pair of leg-o'-mutton sleeves for a commencement occasion as to induce her to read some of the good books which thrilled her mother thirty-five years ago. One can not help having a strong suspicion that a few leaders might do a valuable service by throwing out of our curriculums in English some of the moss-covered and weather-beaten literature on the so-called "required list."