MR. JOHN BURNS, President of the Local Government Board, speaking on the Housing of the Working Classes Bill before the Standing Committee of the House of Commons, on 13th May, is reported to have said that he believed the time had come when men were tired of drenching the country with Public Libraries, and were beginning to realise that small gardens, parks and open spaces were infinitely better for the people. We do not contend for one moment that more parks and open spaces are not wanted for the use of the people, but that these should be provided in place of Public Libraries is certainly another matter. If more open spaces be necessary for the physical wellbeing of the race, surely libraries are quite as much a necessity for the intellectual equipment of the people. And Public Libraries, if used in an intelligent manner, will certainly help those who use the parks to appreciate their beauties all the more. We can, perhaps, forgive Lord Rosebery for his recent criticisms on libraries, because by reason of his position, and having the great advantage of owning a fine library, he has not really experienced the need for the help a Public Library affords. It is, therefore, an easy matter to criticise from his point of view. But such criticism from John Burns, the selfmade man, and essentially a man from the ranks of the people, is another matter. He is the man who must have found Public Libraries useful to him in his earlier days indeed, one seems to remember reading somewhere, a short time ago, that Mr. Burns gave an address in which he publicly stated that he owed much to Public Libraries for the help he had received through their agency. We earnestly hope that Mr. Burns did not intend to make so sweeping an assertion as his present words imply. From the point of view of librarianship such drastic criticism as this from such an one as Mr. Burns appears to us to be of serious import, especially as there seems to be a halfveiled sting in his words which is unduly emphasised by the inclusion of the word infinitelythat open spaces were infinitely better for the people than Public Libraries. It is tantamount to saying that our work as librarians is of little value or that we have failed in our mission, either of which is very wide of the mark.
New Library World – Emerald Publishing
Published: Jun 1, 1912
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