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noted below, I recommend that these proposals be modified to make provision for the retention of the present Public Library organization.
The elimination of the Board of Library Trustees is contrary to the general pattern of public library administration in the United States. According to Dr. C. B. Joeckel in The Government of the American Public Library (1935) nine-tenths of the public libraries in cities with a population of 30,000 or over operate under independent boards of trustees. In numbers this represents 283 out of 310 instances included in the group mentioned. Another study made in the fall of 1947 and reported in the Library Quarterly of July 1949 reaffirms the fact that public libraries operate under independent boards of trustees in the great majority of cities. This study covers 195 cities of 50,000 population and over, excluding New York and Chicago; it reveals that 193 of the 206 public libraries in these cities operate under boards of trustees; only 13. do not have such boards. The survey also discloses that in cities of 250,000 population and over, there are only two public libraries without boards.
I think it is significant that no city the size of Washington is without a public library board. In May 1949 I sent a questionnaire to the following large public libraries : Enoch Pratt (Baltimore), Brooklyn, Buffalo, Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, and St. Louis. Every one of these libraries operates under a board of trustees.
As Professor Joeckel pointed out in 1935, “library boards are found in all types of city government, a fact which substantiates the now familiar idea that there is only a slight correlation between the type of city government and the organization of the library. The existence of library boards would naturally be expected in mayor-council cities, in which the old decentralized type of municipal government is still common. However * * * administration of libraries by boards is still predominant in commission and manager cities as well." In December 1947 Mr. Orin F. Nolting, assistant director of the City Managers Association, gave support to this observation when he stated to the American Library Association that “although a number of cities have adopted the city manager plan since 1935, most of them have retained their library boards.”
The long tradition and present universality of the board type of public library control is particularly significant in view of the number of times theories regarding municipal government have changed. Unlike the cities in most European countries, there is no uniform system of city government in the United States. Furthermore, during the past 50 years there has been endless experimenting with different forms of local government. As Prof. William Bennett Munro wrote in 1926, “the United States has served as the world's chief laboratory for experiments in local administration. Since 1900 we have tried more experiments in this field than have been undertaken by all other countries of the world put together. And the process of experimentation is by no means at an end. We are still in the midst of it. Hardly a week passes by without the announcement that some American city, big or little, has decided to abandon its existing form of government in order to give some other form a trial.” But despite the metamorphoses in municipal management, public libraries continue to operate under boards of trustees in most of the cities of the country. This is no accident. The popularity of this type of library control is the result of experience and the demonstrated effectiveness of the board system. As Dr. C. B. Joeckel wrote in a letter dated December 25, 1947, “The strongest argument for the board plan of library government is its record. No really great public library has emerged in this country under any other plan." In Municipal Administration, Prof. William B. Munro says:
"The public library department should be headed by a board with its members appointed by the mayor, or, in city-manager cities, by the city council. It has been suggested that in the larger cities unpaid library boards should be abolished and their functions transferred to a full-time, well-paid commissioner or director of libraries, but this idea has not gained much favor, nor does it deserve to do so. For among all branches of municipal administration the library department is the one that most appropriately lends itself to the board system of management. Its problems are of the sort that can best be handled by common counsel, by deliberation, and by the reconciliation of honest but divergent views. Few decisions in library administration have to be made in a hurry. A board of influential citizens can perform great service by interpreting the library to the community and the community to the library.”
Prof. Thomas H. Reed, director of the bureau of government, University of Michigan, pointed out in his Municipal Government in the United States, that the best development of public library service is assured under a board devoted to its interest; in fact, the need for certain and continuous development necessitates a board of trustees. He also wrote, "Some of the most impotrant services rendered by our cities have grown up through the voluntary effort of small groups of citizens. * * * Traditions of the highest kind often surround the activities of such boards. Ruthlessly to tear them down in the interest of some scheme of administrative uniformity is folly."
It should be noted that most library boards are appointed.. Professor Joeckel says in the Government of the American Public Library that "the great majority of library boards are appointed either by the chief executive of the city, or by the council, commission, or other governing body, or by the council on recommendation of the mayor."
The preponderance of experience and opinion is in favor of the separate appointive board for public libraries. In view of this fact, I believe that H. R. 1658 should be modified to retain a separate appointive Board of Library Trustees for the Public Library of the District of Columbia with essentially the same powers as those provided for in the present law.
The provisions of H. R. 1658 transferring personnel to the new departments (sec. 505, lines 17-23) are rather vague. There is no assurance that the present independent merit system is to be retained for Public Library personnel; neither is there any indication of what further action, if any, is contemplated regarding such personnel. However, if provisions incorporated in previous home rule bills are any indication, it is probably intended that the Public Library personnel eventually be placed under civil service. I shall not now set down my views on this proposition, since H. R. 1658 omits mention of such eventuality. My objections to civil-service control of Public Library personnel have been stated in connection with H. R. 6227 introduced in 1948, and numerous other bills carrying similar provisions. However, I am enclosing a statement prepared by Mrs. Catherine M. Houck, personnel officer. This paper, written in support of the present Public Library independent merit system (comparable to that of the Library of Congress), indicates the objections to the civil-service type of personnel control for Public Library operations.
As previously noted, H. R. 1658 provides that the Department of Libraries "shall be headed by a Director who shall be appointed by and shall serve at the pleasure of the Board of Commissioners.” This provision which might, in effect, mean instant dismissal with virtually no notice, is contrary to accepted practice elsewhere. At the present time the Chief Librarian of the Public Library of the District of Columbia is appointed by the Board of Library Trustees on a 3-year basis. The practice in other cities varies, some appointments are for life or on an indefinite basis; others are for 3- to 5-year terms; still others are on a year-to-year basis. I know of no librarian in a major city who, assuming satisfactory service, serves at the pleasure of the appointing authority and without any assurance of continuance in office. How an effective long-range educational program can be carried out on such a basis I do not know. Furthermore, if a vacancy in the position of Chief Librarian in the Public Library of the District of Columbia should occur in the future, I doubt that any librarian who has the necessary training and experience to handle the administration of a system as large and involved as this would be willing to relinquish a secure job in order to accept this position on the prevarious terms set forth in H. R. 1658. I know that my own reaction would be to shun such a situation, however tempting the salary consideration might be. In order that the library program may.continue without interruption at its present high level, I recommend that the appointment of the Chief Librarian be left to the Board of Library Trustees, as provided in the existing law. This method has proven effective in this and in most other public libraries throughout the country for a period in excess of 50 years.
In sum, I recommend that all of the provisions of H. R. 1658 affecting the management of the Public Library be changed. I strongly urge that the present independent appointive Board of Library Trustees and the present independent merit system for library personnel be retained. I also recommend that provision be made for the appointment of the Chief Librarian by the Board of Library Trustees on a 3-year term basis.
HARRY N. PETERSON, Librarian.
[The Public Library, Washington, D. C., April 20, 1949)
(Catherine M. Houck, personnel officer) Within the past 16 months four separate bills have been introduced in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate, concerned with home rule and reorganization in the District of Columbia. The first, H. R. 4902 (January 12, 1948) placed the professional staff of the Public Library under the merit system of the present Board of Education and the clerical and maintenance personnel under civil service, H. R. 6227 (April 14, 1948) transferred all Public Library positions under civil service. While H. R. 28 (January 3, 1949), includes no explicit provisions regarding the application of the Civil Service Act to Public Library positions, its Senate counterpart, S. 1365 (March 23 (legislative day, March 18), 1949) definitely eliminates the present independent merit system and transfers all Public Library positions (except that of Director) under civil service, by title XIII, section 1301 which states: (a) “Except as otherwise provided in subsections (b) and (c), all offices and positions in the government of the District shall be subject to the act entitled 'An act to regulate and improve the civil service of the United States,' approved January 16, 1883, as amended, and rules and regulations made in pursuance of such act.” 1
The vigorous opposition to such a course expressed by many distinguished public librarians on the basis of their own experience and observations impels us to importune for a guaranty of our status quo in respect to the appointment and removal of personnel. The opinions of several library educators and of librarians in a number of Federal Government departments as well as the findings of the Hoover Commission, only serve to strengthen our conclusive belief that a transfer to civil service will result in the serious impairment of public library service to the citizens of the District.
About a year ago, in connection with H. R. 4902, letters were sent to librarians of public libraries in 17 cities of 500,000 or more population, inquiring their opinions of civil service as applied to public library personnel. Of the four under civil service, only one spoke in its favor and that in a way to indicate his system was unusually liberal. Two (including one under a civil-service set-up conceded to be the best in the country) replied unfavorably; one was noncommittal. In failing to reply, one library under civil service gave the appearance, at least, of not endorsing the system.
Similar letters were sent to the heads of two library schools, to the American Library Association, and to a professor in library science and author of the definitive text The Government of the American Public Library.
One head of a school was very much opposed to civil service in public libraries; one advised acceptance of the principle for diplomatic reasons, while admitting to “tortures of soul" experienced first-hand in an institution operating under the system.
The American Library Association also endorsed civil service in theory under certain conditions but cited the type of service the United States Civil Service Commission performs for the Library of Congress as a possible model for the District of Columbia Public Library. As a matter of fact, the same sort of relationship does exist between the United States Civil Service Commission and the District of Columbia Public Library which enables the latter to maintain its own merit system and which works so ideally we should be loath to see it changed.
As the majority of the foregoing granted permission to quote them, a few salient excerpts from their letters follow: Ralph A. Beals, director of the New York Public Library and formerly assistant librarian of the District of Columbia Public Library, wrote: "I have been distressed to learn that the proposed reorganization of the District of Columbia government, which holds such great promise in most particulars, includes a provision for covering the staff of the Washington Public Library completely under civil service. In my opinion this action, if taken would be a retrogression from a very satisfactory arrangement between the library and the civil-service authorities with, which I was familiar
1 Since this report was prepared, a revision of S. 1365 has appeared. This bill, s. 1527, dated April 7 (legislative day, March 18), 1949, makes no important change in the provisions affecting the Public Library.
during my 2 years as assistant in the Washington Public Library from 1940 to 1942..
“The arrangement then in effect seems to me admirable; positions were established, graded, and reviewed by civil-service authorities, but the library authorities held the initiative in appointments, promotions, and transfers. This arrangement made for the highest possible degree of flexibility and sensitivity in operation. I hope that you will use your influence to see that it is preserved.”
This expression came from our nearest comparable neighbor, Emerson Greenaway, librarian of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore: “The board of trustees and the administration over a long period of years have insisted on preserving our independent status so far as employment is concerned. I am absolutely certain, that we would not wish to participate in a civil-service program.
"My one experience with civil service was in Worcester, Mass. (1940–45), and there only the building employees came under the State civil-service program. I would not say that the arrangement was ideal or even good.”.
Milton J. Ferguson, librarian of Brooklyn Public Library, recently retired, was still in office when he wrote: “I am strongly of the opinion that the method of selection now observed in the Brooklyn Public Library is much better for library purposes than civil service, as we see it."
From Cincinnati came this conviction of Carl Vitz, librarian: “I would be very unwilling to head a library for which, an outside agency selected the people through whom I was expected to produce results. * * * It is my observation that, when cities are politically controlled, civil service, if it does exist, operates chiefly to prevent or reduce the worst abuses. If cities are free from political domination, good results may be had, but I know of no place where a civil-service commission selects better than the library itself. Certainly Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, and Minneapolis without do not have to take a back seat to Chicago or Milwaukee or St. Paul with civil service."
Ralph Munn is the director of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and of the Carnegie Institute's library school as well. His standing in the ranks of American librarians is indicated by his having served as president of the American Library Association. His reply is quoted in part: "Pittsburgh offers a marked contrast between civil service and non-civil-service libraries. Its North Side is the former city of Allegheny. The Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny is still independent of the Pittsburgh library system, and it operates under municipal civil service. It has never been able to attract a sufficient number of libraryschool graduates, and it is forced to maintain a training class in which it trains its own librarians. With the same salary schedule, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh secures superior librarians from the library schools.”
Several years ago the Detroit Public Library was faced with the possibility of inclusion in a civil-service set-up and, in reply to our request, kindly sent us an extensive collection of the evidence used in a successful campaign to retain an independent merit system. Later, reference will be made herein to details of that material which led to the expressed conviction that “The record of accomplishment in civil-service libraries to date is nothing to point to with pride, except, perhaps, in California. It is generally acqnowledged that that State's civil-service set-up is far superior to any other in this country.”
But, although under a civil-service system conceded to be at least as effective as any in the country, this response came from the Los Angeles Public Librarian Harold Hamill: "Obviously, civil service is an advantage over the old spoils system, but libraries which have been competently administered by library boards and qualified administrators have undoubtedly been able to carry out higher levels of service than those which have been forced to surrender their personnel procedure to a considerable extent to civil-service control. * * *
"It would seem to me to be a definite mistake for the Public Library of Washington, D. C., which has had such a highly satisfactory administrative record, and which has always offered a very high level of service to the public which it serves, to be forced to surrender any part of its personnel procedure to a civilservice commission, even though it may be under the Federal Civil Service Commission. I think it would very likely result in lowered standards of achieve
Dr. Carleton B. Joeckel, professor of librarianship at the University of California, former dean of the Chicago Graduate Library School and author of the Government of the American Public Library (University of Chicago Press, 1935), wrote: “Regarding the question of civil service in relation to the library, I think you are probably right in attempting to maintain your present independent status. I have had occasion to check on the operation of civil service in a number of cases recently, and each time it seems to me that an efficient independent organization is preferable to a general civil-service system, however good that system may be.”
The preceding have been in the nature of general objections to civil service for public libraries. Following are particular reasons why the foregoing individuals oppose the set-up and why we concur: Examinations fail to test for personality; yet, the right personality in library employees is felt to be absolutely essential. In this connection, Wharton Miller, dean of the Syracuse University's Library School, had this to say: “No test, oral or written, has yet been devised to measure such intangibles as enthusiasm, desire to serve, loyalty to the job, temper, temperament, especially desired qualities." He feels that appointment of a librarian "should be decided on the basis of fitness for the job, because misfits injure not only themselves (as a doctor or lawyer would); they injure the whole institution of which they are a part.”.
The librarian of the Evanston (Ill.) Public Library (under civil service for many years) is quoted as having remarked at a civil-service meeting in December 1940 that while their civil service was of unusually high caliber and very understanding of their library problems, “there was no place in civil service for consideration of personality that will augment qualities already on the staff ; that the best rating does not mean that this person will fit in and build up the staff to achieve the best results for the library as a whole."
Los Angeles (under civil service) feels that limiting an administrator to a selection from the first three names listed does not take sufficient recognition of the value of personality in library work. Baltimore, Brooklyn, Cleveland, Detroit, etc., all emphasized the importance of this trait and mentioned the failure of civil-service examinations to screen for personality defects.
The consensus was that recommendations from library schools and employers, and personal interviews wherever possible, were much more valid selection devices than examinations. Alexander Galt, librarian of the Buffalo (N. Y.) Public Library, summarized it thus : "Library administrators not under civil service know that they can evaluate the different library schools as better proof of the scholastic ability of the people than any examination that they themselves could give or could possibly be given by a civil-service board.
"In the majority of cases the new employee has had experience in some other library, and the administrator can always make inquiry of the previous or present employer and practically always be sure of receiving an honest report of the ability of the librarian under consideration. When either or both of these methods can be combined with a personal interview, the administrator is in a position to secure the very best librarian that is available for the position to be filled.”
And from Detroit, “We have access to the services of the best library schools and the American Library Association Placement Bureau to which professional librarians throughout the country have recourse. From acquaintance over the years at library conferences, and otherwise, we know the people connected with these institutions, their caliber, their judgment, and discrimination, and they know our library, its standards, and its needs. We know from experience and knowledge of long standing the people upon whose judgment of possible recruits we can depend, and on the other side they know the type of people and qualifications we would consider for appointment. * * * The best librarians do not have to wait to take examinations * * * but get the best position available for which they are fitted."
Mr. Munn (Pittsburgh) reiterates: "The examinations are unnecessary from the library's viewpoint, because dependable appraisals can always be secured from the library school and former employers."
Another criticism of civil-service exams in their present form is their failure to make allowance for special requirements. Frequently, a library needs someone with special training in a certain field such as science, cataloging, reference service, children's work, etc. Yet, an administrator under civil service would be required to accept one of the persons at the top of the eligible list without regard to such special requirements, for which the examinations do not now test. As Lucy L. Morgan, assistant librarian in charge of personnel, wrote from Detroit,