Recently we dusted off a Library Journal article from 1876 in which Samuel Green speaks to the “Personal Relations Between Librarians and Readers.”* In a series of vignettes about the reference needs of patrons inspired by his time with the Worcester Free Public Library, Green describes scenes that parallel the needs of users today. 140 years later, everything about libraries has changed, except for the many things that are exactly the same.
Consider this bit of advice on helping readers search for information:
“…many persons who use a library have to be instructed in regard to the use of catalogues, and need practice before they can use them to the best advantage. Entries are overlooked. Discrimination is lacking for separating good books from those of little merit, and books adapted to the capacity and particular needs of the user from those which are unsuited to his requirements.”
Over the course of the article Green outlines four responsibilities the late-19th century library should master, all of which still apply today:
- Teach people how to use the library
- Answer readers’ questions
- Promote the library within the community
- Aid the reader in the selection of good books
How do we best bring these concepts from the 1870s to libraries in the digital age? Let’s look at the first two responsibilities, then focus in on numbers three and four next week.