Growth in the Postwar Years

As the war neared its end, the State Library continued to expand its services despite extreme space limitations. In 1946, the library collection included 292,881 books and bound periodicals, with an additional 330,185 “documents and pamphlets.” A total of 1,060 “recordings and radio transcriptions” and 34,032 pictures were on hand, with 809 current periodicals held. A new medium, radio, was also employed to promote the library as “The World in Books,” a 15-minute program aired over WILL, the radio station of the University of Illinois, each Friday. A growing staff of 108 full-time and eight part-time employees – a five-fold increase in manpower from just a decade earlier – handled the increasing workload. As demand and the collection grew, work areas that had once been adequate quickly shrank in comfort and efficiency.326

In 1943, in an effort to increase efficient service, the complete book collection, including periodicals, had been re-shelved in order by subject and alphabet. A periodical index was also made for library staff, the first such index the library had ever created. But there were still glaring needs. In 1944, the stack room and the ceilings above each stack level were painted for the first time since the library had moved to the Centennial Building in 1923 (“pastel shadings of green and yellow as basic colors” were chosen to complement the white ceilings). In addition, nearly a quarter century after its receipt, the donation of books from the Illinois State Museum sat on shelves in a separate room, still uncataloged.327

In the 1944 Biennial Report, it was reported that “the physical plant is now laid out in what is believed to be the best arrangement for the greatest efficiency… each department has good lighting and is not so crowded that there is too much work interference.” But by 1946, the jump in demand had created plenty of “interference.” Additional shelving and temporary storage, including bookcarts, could not prevent books from covering tables, desks, and the floor. The condition was particularly severe in the cataloging department. Photos taken at the time show employees dwarfed by piles of books, with little space to move around.328

Employee turnover was also becoming a problem as many library workers left for higher-paying jobs. As salaries began to stagnate, the library was faced with the difficulty of finding qualified workers while unable to compete with larger metropolitan libraries. An effort to hire “GI Joes and GI Janes…in [an] endeavor to help the veteran” was made, but “they, as many other veterans, could not quite adjust to civilian living and civilian responsibility as quickly as even they had anticipated.” Simple break facilities were not available to many workers. The 1944 Biennial Report noted that since “no provision [in the Centennial Building] was made for rest rooms in connection with toilet rooms …[many] staff do not leave the building” between the working hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. As a result, a closet with a skylight was cleaned out and fitted up “for emergency use.” These working conditions, along with increased whispers of worker discontent, indicated simmering problems within the walls of the State Library.329

There were other requirements for working at the library. Atop a list of staff conduct rules was “loyalty to the library.” The workplace was compared to a family household, and the staff was to “show loyalty to their employing unit much the same as they should for their home or family.” Any “matters pertaining to the employing unit” were not to be “discussed outside any more than family matters should be discussed outside the home.” Staff members were also expected to “read extensively” to “maintain a high standard of service.” Some of the standards were reflective of the era. Female employees at any meeting were expected to wear hats “and have gloves in evidence,” while men were to wear coats and “as occasion demands, hats.” However, while at work, there was “no objection to men leaving off their coats during the summer months.” Despite their adversities, State Library staff still managed to provide efficient, friendly service. A Springfield High School teacher wrote in 1940 that the library was “staffed and maintained by…well-trained and competent librarians [who were] courteous, pleasant, and ever seek to aid the borrower in the use of the library and its facilities.”330

The library blamed the morale problems partly on the cramped quarters in the Centennial Building. The 1946 Biennial Report declared that “more efficient service – more economical service – and quicker service,” and “improvement of staff morale” would follow if better quarters were found. That declaration was likely aimed at getting a proposed new library off the planning stages and into construction.331

Calls for a new library facility were heard only a few years after the library’s move to the Centennial Building. As space became even more pressing, these calls grew louder. By the fall of 1943, the Illinois State Library Advisory Committee presented recommendations for a new library in a detailed and urgent plea for better facilities. The proposed new library was to be an addition to the State Archives Building, but one that would “in no way interfere with the particular and peculiar facilities needed to house the archival records.”332

The proposed new quarters included adequate provision for the Receiving and Shipping Department, whose workload grew with the increase in extension services. There were to be improved rooms for reference, circulation, and cataloging on the first floor. The second floor was to house the Adult Education Department, publications office, and two document rooms, with the Art and Music Departments on the third floor, along with the Collections Department. Each floor was to feature spacious workrooms, with all chambers easily connected by corridors and elevators (lacking in the Centennial Building). A small auditorium, conference rooms, and utility storage were also included in the design. Unlike the Centennial Building, this new library building was to ensure ample space for 50 years of growth. In all, the building had an estimated cost of over $2.6 million. Plans were presented to the Illinois Post-War Planning Commission, but few shared the library’s optimism. The proposal was scrapped before it ever reached advanced stages of planning.333