A youthful spoliator I would not be: library book thefts and punishments over the centuries

I love words, and I love things from the past too. Of particular enjoyment is browsing old New Zealand newspapers on Paperspast. Papers Past contains more than three million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 90 publications from all regions of New Zealand and represents a magnificent effort by the National Library of New Zealand.

I missed this wonderful extract which fortunately Gayle Blanch, Librarian at Burnham Camp Library found and alerted us to on the NZ equivalent of JISC lists:

 “TOPICS OF THE DAY. Evening Post, Volume LXXXI, Issue 77, 1 April 1911, Page 4.

Young Barbarians

"Two youths went to the Wellington Public Library, and hacked at valuable books. Their vandal hands did mischief which £5 will not cover, and in addition the young barbarians carried away about £10 worth of books, of which some have been restored. They were tracked down and convicted by Mr. Riddell, S.M., but the penalty was only a fine of 20s, with an alternative of seven days' imprisonment. The magistrate may have been influenced by the fact that other charges, not connected with the library, were pending against the accused, but that attitude is no help to the unfortunate library. This evil of mutilation and sneak-thieving has spread over a period of years at the library. It is very difficult to catch the mean persons who do the damage; when caught they should be punished in a salutary manner, to discourage themselves and the others. A fine of 20s is not a sufficient deterrent – youthful spoliators like the ones recently convicted should be given two or three months or more, at the discretion of the authorities in an industrial school, such as the one at Burnham, Canterbury. Here there is early rising, and there are bracing cold baths for those whose health permits the splash or plunge (Burnham is a healthy place). The food is plain but nourishing, and there is no lack of work to whet the appetite and keep uncleanness out of the mind. A course of Burnham should teach barbarians to have respect, if not love, for public library books."

Pamela McKirdy followed with the court summary, where the two boys were given their Last Chance:

Their lawyer blamed the type of books that boys read: "tales of derring-do and penny dreadfuls", and went on to say “It is a species of conceit.” 

 The judge let them off leniently with only three months in jail.

Happenstance or serendipity in TOPICS OF THE DAY meant I also was able to read an article on the Utility of Latin and how other more practical skills are limited in their application to the things of this world and the next. Whereas Latin, with apologies to the “practical man”, is “practically” unlimited. Latin was my key to the golden treasury of English and key, too, to unlock other doors in every sense.

So thank you Gayle and Pamela for sharing, and thank you too to Whakatane High School for putting me in the Latin stream and giving me among other things my love of words in the golden treasury of language.

P.S. here's another suggestion for the punishment of library book thieves, tweeted by Lambeth Palace Library a couple of weeks ago.



– Sue

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