The Demonstration Program

While the pleas for increased space continued, the State Library continued to serve the public as best it could. Extension of library services remained foremost in the minds of administration, and efforts to spread free reading to all Illinois citizens continued. Although Illinois was not alone in its efforts – other states were also concerned with library extension and were mounting their own programs, including bookmobile service – the plan of the State Library is a study in the benefits, and pitfalls, of extension efforts.334

Legislation passed by the General Assembly in 1943 optimistically promised a long-proposed solution to library extension. That May 26, the legislature passed the District Library Law, which allowed for “any portion of the territory in a county, or in more than one but not more than five counties” to “be organized into a public library district.” All territories had to be areas unserved by public libraries. A “district board” of six members, including the chairman of the board of the “county which contains all or a larger portion of the district than any other county.” The other five members were to be appointed by the county board. For many years, State Library  administration believed that district libraries were the most efficient routes for spreading public library service. In 1946, the library published a pamphlet, Dollars and Sense, which promoted the benefits of district libraries. Among others, the pamphlet noted that “more funds become available” when libraries pooled their resources, leading to improved book stock, personnel training, audio-visual aids, reference service, and bookmobile service. Even more desirable, suggested the pamphlet, would be a “regional library,” composed of several district libraries, which could further enhance book-buying and processing as well as sharing of library specialists and  consultants. But, as with the 1919 County Library Law, few municipalities showed an initial interest in the establishment of district libraries.335

Ever since the 1935 Library Relief Fund had appropriated $600,000 for distribution to libraries state wide, other efforts had been made to secure state funding for extension of library services. In 1937, a bill requesting another $600,000, as well as $200,000 “for the purpose of establishing and maintaining a system of library service” for rural and urban communities, did not make it out of committee. Two years later, another request for $300,000 to be distributed to tax-supported libraries for the purchase of books and periodicals was made. The 1939 bill also requested $100,000 for “establishing and maintaining a system of local library service for people then without it.”336

The purpose of the extra $100,000 was vaguely defined. It could have been used for the purchase of more books and periodicals, for bookmobile service, “other necessary expense,” or to fund agreements with other libraries to extend library service. Both the Illinois House and Senate passed the bill with only one dissenting vote in each chamber. However, Governor Henry Horner – himself a devoted reader – vetoed the bill, citing concerns of the ill-defined purpose for the $100,000.337

Children make their selections on a State Library bookmobile.

Children make their selections on a State Library bookmobile.

The State Library and the Illinois Library Association continued their joint efforts to get library legislation passed and, in 1941, came up with another bill. This one called for $200,000 to be distributed on the basis of population to tax-supported libraries, with another $200,000 to provide bookmobile service to each of the six library districts outlined in the 1939 State Library Act. This bill also failed to be reported out of committee. However one lawmaker, at the request of the ILA, sponsored a study of public libraries in Illinois, which virtually repeated the concerns voiced by the State Library for many years.338

The ILA continued its efforts and drafted three more bills of similar nature for the 1941 legislative session, but a recommendation by the State Library to the Illinois Post-War Planning Commission proved to be the basis for extension services in the coming years. In their recommendations, the State Library called for regional centers to be established in each of the six regions, through which efficient efforts to spread free reading could be made. Each region would have six vehicles, including three bookmobiles, and a collection of at least 75,000 volumes. A staff of seven professional and 10 non-professional librarians would administer the collections, with seven additional staffers to be added at the State Library. New book orders would be placed in Springfield, but shipped directly to the respective regional center. The regional librarians would also assist individual libraries with problem-solving. Each regional center was to “act as a clearinghouse for supplementary material…and would provide cooperative services. Such a plan would make possible stronger local services and would extend library service to persons living between incorporated communities.”339

The Illinois State Library Advisory Committee then requested an appropriation of $300,000 for the “purpose of establishing a demonstration in each of the six library regions” during the years 1945 to 1947. The demonstrations were intended to show the value of library service in areas not already served, with the hope that municipalities would be encouraged to form their own tax-supported libraries. In early April 1945, five members of the Advisory Committee, 10 ILA representatives, including the president, and two State Library representatives met to discuss ways to get the bill passed in the General Assembly. House Bill 526 was introduced on April 23, 1945, and subsequently referred to committee in both chambers.340

A massive campaign by the Public Relations Committee of the ILA followed, including postcards, flyers, and requests for librarians and citizens to contact their legislators, urging passage. News releases were sent to most state newspapers, and numerous civic and fraternal organizations were asked for their support. A hearing was held before the House Appropriations Committee in early May and included members of the ILA, Advisory Committee, Friends of Libraries in Illinois, and the Illinois State Library.341

The bill eventually made its way to the House floor, where it passed with no dissenting votes on May 23. In mid-June, the bill was sent to the Senate, where it was postponed for the lack of necessary votes. Again, the Public Relations Committee of the ILA went to work, sending letters to the librarians in the district of each senator who had either voted against the bill or did not vote at all. These letters asked librarians to contact their legislators asking about their votes. This pressure succeeded, and on June 30 the bill passed the Senate with no dissenting votes.342

Letters from the Governor and Secretary of State announcing the program were then sent to every librarian in the state. The Illinois State Library Advisory Committee was charged with the important task of determining which areas were to be served by the demonstrations, all of which would be conducted simultaneously. Among the criteria for selection were the number of requests for assistance to the State Library from various regions, and the  areas with the fewest libraries. Locations with a strong possibility for future library establishment were also favored. Ultimately, areas of two to five counties in each of the six regions were selected.343

A State Library vehicle navigates a treacherous dirt road in the late 1940s. Bookmobile service during the Demonstration Program brought books to some of the most remote locales in the state.

A State Library vehicle navigates a treacherous dirt road in the late 1940s. Bookmobile service during the Demonstration Program brought books to some of the most remote locales in the state.

Makeshift headquarters were then established in each region. The Region 1 headquarters were in a basement room of the Mercer County courthouse in Aledo, an 18-by-30-foot space that, according to Illinois Libraries, was “not too well lighted and not too well heated.” The State Library provided the shelving, desks, and chairs, as well as an electric radiator heater and lamps. In Region 2, one half of a large room on the second floor of the Legler Branch of the Chicago Public Library served as headquarters. Again, the State Library provided a filing cabinet, desk lamp, and furniture, as well as a telephone. A basement room of the Pontiac Public Library was the Region 3 headquarters, which again was “not too well heated.” As a result, the State Library again provided an electric radiator heater, while jointly supplying the decorations and furniture with the Pontiac Public Library.344

Region 4 was administered from two headquarters, one a 20-by-20-foot room of the Lacon City Hall and the other a library room of the Calvin Coolidge School in West Peoria. The Lacon Rotary Club and City Council jointly provided furniture for that facility, while the Peoria Board of Education supplied the necessities at the Coolidge school. Region 5 also had co-headquarters – a large, second-floor room of the Effingham City Hall and two basement rooms of the Fayette County courthouse in Vandalia. The municipalities supplied the furniture. The headquarters of Region 6 were shared in “an excellent basement room” of the Mt. Carmel Public Library and a “small basement room” of the Carmi Public Library. As in Region 5, the furniture and supplies were provided by the municipalities with help from the service clubs of Carmi.345

Of the $300,000 appropriation, approximately $129,000 was allotted for book purchases. Books were ordered, processed, and cataloged at the State Library, which also loaned additional materials when needed. Each district also had audio-visual materials and was able to borrow from the State Library’s collection of pictures and phonograph records. The State Library’s art collection soon proved in great demand for extension as well. Artwork could be examined using Viewmasters and reels, similar to the toys that were among the most popular of the period.346

The program was staffed by a director, six district librarians, three children’s librarians, six bookmobile librarians, five bookmobile drivers, four clerks, and three additional librarians to handle book orders and cataloging. Almost from the start, the effort received national attention, especially from the American Library Association, which attempted to sponsor a federal bill patterned after the demonstration program in Illinois.347

While the director and the district librarians were quickly appointed, other positions were not immediately filled, and remained vacant until the demonstration program developed. Adding to this problem was a shortage of trained librarians in the post-war period, especially those with adequate training for a specialized program. The six district librarians each attended an orientation program in Springfield in late 1945 that lasted several weeks. Service in each district was to be provided chiefly by bookmobile, with deposit centers in schools, community centers, stores, churches, town halls, trailer camps, and gas stations. These centers were much like those of the NYA bookmobile program set up a decade earlier. A total of 21 deposit centers were established in the first year of the demonstration, with others added as the program expanded.348

At first glance, the demonstration program appears comprehensive in scope, but a closer look reveals a glaring lack of proper planning. The Demonstration Bill was vague in its wording, with no definite plan outlined. As a result, district librarians were expected to set forth their own plan of action, including public relations, community outreach, and promotion of plans for permanent library service. Even more troubling was the lack of analysis of the demonstration areas themselves. No surveys were made of the areas before bookmobile service was established, and there appears to be little study of factors such as property valuation, tax base, and number of adults and children who were to be served by the demonstrations.349

The sizes of the collections were also too small. A total of 62,500 books, magazines, and pamphlets were to be purchased at the commencement of the program and shared by the six districts. Several districts reported permanent collections of 9,200, with additional books on loan from the State Library. But these numbers pale in comparison to the populations in some of the larger districts. While the smaller districts comprised as few as 11,946 residents, the population of the larger districts – especially in the Chicagoland area – reached as high as 160,905. As a result, over $30,000 was subsequently added to the book budget to help ease these discrepancies. In addition, although the State Library attempted to create well-balanced collections in each district, the quality of the collections was sometimes deemed inferior by staff members.350

Children line up to enter a State Library bookmobile near a school in Hagarstown.

Children line up to enter a State Library bookmobile near a school in Hagarstown.

Simply getting the books to the people also proved a challenge. Although the program called for a bookmobile to be placed in each of the six districts, orders for the new vehicles were long delayed. This was due largely to the material shortage plaguing the country in the postwar years. Although the economy was booming, some industries were hampered by a continued shortage of needed supplies, including steel. This was especially true in the automotive industry, which was also hit with mass strikes by disgruntled workers. As a result, bookmobiles that were ordered in October 1945 were not delivered until June 1947, at nearly the end of the two-year term of the demonstration program. Delivery of new book orders was also delayed, due mainly to a short supply of paper in postwar America.351

The lack of bookmobiles left demonstration staffers scrambling to find methods of book transport. One bookmobile was already available, as that vehicle had been used to deliver books across Fayette and Effingham counties (Region 5 counties that consistently showed great interest in bookmobile programs) beginning in 1943. That vehicle was then shifted to use in Region 5 by the demonstration program in the fall of 1945. The 1947 Biennial Report, in a tone of exasperation, recounted the story of the delivery delays, reporting that, “to be certain orders for the bookmobiles … were placed immediately after the passage of the [demonstration] bill. Confirmation of the order was received and delivery assured by October 1945. But you know the story.” The outcome of the “story” was that few books reached the hands of Illinois readers in the first year of the demonstration project.352

Later in the fall of 1945, the Region 5 bookmobile was joined in Region 6 by another bookmobile, a preowned vehicle purchased by the state. A third bookmobile, purchased new with a capacity of 3,500 books, followed, crisscrossing Region 4. The other three regions received carry-alls, a sort of utility vehicle resembling a station wagon. These carry-alls delivered books in boxes and cartons, unlike bookmobiles, which allowed patrons to step inside and peruse the bookshelves containing the collection.353

The collections, especially those traveling by bookmobile, were comprised of a wide variety of subjects, including picture books, easy-to-read books, fiction, and non-fiction for all grade levels. Emphasis was placed on children’s books, reflecting the many schools served along bookmobile routes. As with the NYA bookmobile program, young readers enthusiastically awaited the arrival of bookmobiles at their schools and deposit centers. Long lines of children stood patiently for their turn to examine the collections and quickly consumed the juvenile reading material. Adult readers also greeted bookmobiles with excitement. Bookmobile stops were important events for avid readers who were previously without library service. As one bookmobile driver wrote:

“Life is never dull on the Bookmobile. One day two boys searched the shelves for a reference book on snakes. They had an identification to make concerning a certain green snake – and, their problem was immediate, since the snake had boarded the Bookmobile with them!

Probably the most satisfying feature of Bookmobile operation is the unflagging and enthusiastic interest of the readers…the response and interest on the part of the children make it refreshing and satisfying.”

One bookmobile worker reported that a woman said her 4-year-old son enjoyed The Contented Little Pussy Cat so much that the boy slept with the book for nearly a week. One little girl became so attached to About Nono the Baby Elephant that she did not want to return the book. As a result, her parents had to buy the book for the girl as a Christmas gift.354

Although only Region 5 had established service by the spring of 1946 – and Regions 3 and 6 did not receive service until that September – an impressive number of citizens were reached by the demonstration program. In Region 3, a total of 650 “places served” (a term that included bookmobile stops and deposit centers) were reported. Five of the regions had a total of at least 160 places served. The other, the Region 2 area in Cook County, had a total of 99, although its geographic size was the smallest of the six regions. A total of 1,749 “places served” were reported for the two-year duration of the demonstration program, including 1,396 schools. For population served (estimated as the total number of citizens in the regional demonstrations without library service), the number was 442,434, with a circulation of 370,704. In addition, a number of municipalities within the demonstration areas began discussing the establishment of permanent library service – the original goal of the program.355

This barbershop in Farina served as a drop-off station for books during the Demonstration Program.

This barbershop in Farina served as a drop-off station for books during the Demonstration Program.

There is no question that the demonstration pro- gram reached many Illinoisans not previously served by public libraries. Likewise, there is little doubt that the bookmobiles and deposit centers were warmly received by citizens who sought access to free reading. The demonstration program was a public-relations boon for the State Library, with countless photo opportunities created by the bookmobile stops and the long lines of readers waiting to select materials. The demonstration program also generated widespread newspaper coverage and the interest of library organizations nationwide. Equally important, the program alerted Illinois residents to the role that their State Library was playing in their everyday lives.356

But critics believed the demonstration program could have accomplished much more, blaming poor planning by the State Library. While the library had ambitious goals, the effort attempted to reach far too wide of an area with not enough manpower or materials. A single vehicle carried books to an excessive number of stops. Schools, the primary focus of the bookmobile stops, numbered from 93 in Region 2 to as high as 340 in Region 5. Drivers on the routes were stretched to their limits. In many cases, only a half hour was allotted for each stop. Demonstration vehicles also struggled with bad weather and poor road and bridge conditions, making the deliveries even more difficult. The staff was also insufficient, with too few workers expected to handle a “population served” that sometimes approached 100,000.357

Even more critical was the inadequacy of the collections. Although the populations served numbered in the tens of thousands, the collections in each district were too small for proper service. In many instances, schools were allowed only one book per child for as many as six to eight weeks. As a result, some districts reported circulation to be as small as one book per pupil. District headquarters found that children’s books soon ran out, and the State Library was forced to loan increasing numbers of books just to maintain minimum collections in each district. For much of the demonstration program, the number of books loaned by the State Library was actually higher than the total of the six regional collections combined.358

Only a decade earlier, the National Youth Association bookmobile programs had run into similar difficulties with delivery, inadequate collection sizes, and expansive routes. The State Library, which helped administer the NYA effort, could have learned much from these experiences. Unfortunately, many of the same troubles befell the demonstration program, yet another indication of poor planning by State Library administration.359

Due to its many shortcomings, the demonstration program was subject to sharp criticism by librarians around the state. Although Secretary of State Edward Barrett had lauded the “splendid organization of the Illinois State Library” in the demonstration project in a lecture to the ILA in May 1946, many librarians believed the program fell short of its potential because of poor organization. While most librarians favored extension efforts such as the Demonstration Bill, many believed the geographic areas of the six districts were too large to be adequately served by the small staff and few vehicles assigned by the State Library. The small size and sometimes inferior quality of the book collections and the experience of the demonstration staff were also questioned.360

Concerns rose above the local level, as the Executive Board of the Illinois Library Association expressed member dissatisfaction over the administration of the demonstration program. Topping the list of concerns was the lack of progress, which was deemed “disappointingly slow.” This was only one of several instances showing a growing rift between the State Library and the ILA. Rapid turnover at the highest levels of State Library management was also a problem. In 1947, Marion E. James was appointed superintendent of the Extension Division, the sixth person to fill that position in little more than a decade. She remained in the position until the fall of 1948, leaving a key vacancy that was not filled for several months. This disturbingly high turnover was caused in part by appointees who were too old, sick, or preoccupied with personal problems at the time of their appointment to remain in the position for long.361

The continued efforts of the State Library and the ILA to promote permanent district and county library systems was also coming under fire from librarians statewide who opposed these plans. Foremost among the concerns was the belief that librarians would lose their standing within a larger library system. Many also disdained working for another library board that would result from some type of consolidation. They further worried that they might lose their jobs to better-trained personnel.362

Politics also played a role in the dissatisfaction with the demonstration. Some librarians criticized the “political nature” of the State Library and were inclined to frown on any State Library program, including the demonstration project. In addition, nonprofessional staff positions, such as clerks and bookmobile drivers, were often filled by patronage. Drivers were not only asked to contribute 2 percent from their monthly checks as a political “kick-back,” but could be released from duty any time they were needed to campaign for upcoming elections. Charges of favoritism were also leveled by professional staff members who believed that clerical positions were not held to the same standards of “attendance and efficiency.” The name of the Secretary of State was painted in bright lettering on each district vehicle, striking some as a political move.363

But the most searing complaints came from demonstration program staffers themselves. The lack of a clear objective and poor planning were the main criticisms. One wrote that, “as I look back on the project it seems to me that someone must have been hoping for a miracle if real results were expected from the demonstration we had.” As the two years of the demonstration progressed, staff turnover became an increasing concern. By the end of the term in 1947, only two of the original staff members were still working with the demonstration.364

Certainly, problems in Illinois were not unique. Other states with similar programs experienced many of the same problems. Despite criticism, the Illinois demonstration program was renewed in 1947 as the State Library attempted to come up with productive solutions. In the November 1947 edition of Illinois Libraries, Extension Superintendent Marion James acknowledged that, “it was evident from the service given during the previous period that the territory in each of the six regions had been too large for complete coverage.” The new period promised greater investment of resources by the library, as James wrote, “the demonstration of library service became an integral part of the extension services of the Illinois State Library.”365

The main objectives of the demonstration program, long criticized as ill-defined, were clearly restated. That stated purpose was to “convince the population served that such library services are worth retention on a tax-supported basis.” The State Library was optimistic that unserved areas would work toward the establishment of tax-supported, district libraries. A time limit of one year was given for the counties (served in the original demonstration period of 1945-47) to decide on a permanent library. Local contributions, considered a key factor in the level of interest, mainly constituted financial payments from school superintendents. However, some critics charged that the State Library was leaning too heavily on public school officials to promote, and help pay for, the library services.366

As the second term began, each district finally had its own bookmobile. The size of demonstration districts had been reduced and adult reading took on more importance, marking a change from the first two years of the program, when juvenile readers had been the focus. Because book stocks increased rapidly, more deposit stations were set up within the smaller districts, and bookmobiles arrived at schools once every four weeks on average – a great improvement over the previous term. Story-hour programs were also established in all schools. District librarians became more active in lectures promoting benefits of permanent library service. An average of 18 talks per month were given by district or State Library staff members.367

The first year of the new term again showed impressive numbers in terms of residents served. Although the total of “places served” had been reduced to 1,101, a total of 345,551 “population served” was recorded, with a circulation jump to 531,599. Still, few permanent libraries materialized. While some petitions circulated in various districts calling for a vote on tax-supported libraries, no real progress was made. Counties showing a lack of interest were dropped, and their library resources reassigned to other counties in the hopes of establishing library service in different locales. In 1947, the State Library declared their intent to add an additional demonstration project “in the Southwestern part of the State where few libraries exist and where the need is particularly great.” No such addition was ever made, however.368

As the fourth year of the demonstration opened in the fall of 1948, a greater efficiency eased many of the original problems. Two vehicles operated in each region, and books were no longer in short supply as in years past. A circulation of 625,990 was reported among a population of 246,148 served in 1948-49, with access to books at 554 schools and 285 community outlets.369

Still, there was little public interest in forming taxsupported libraries. Few petitions were circulated, and even fewer made the ballot. The main issue was a resistance to increased taxes. While free reading was highly sought after by the populace, the idea of having to pay for it in the form of higher taxes was not well received. Others disliked the increased state involvement that came with the formation of libraries. In most cases where the issue came to a vote, library proposals lost in embarrassing fashion. A Livingston County election in May 1949 resulted in a library defeat by the landslide of 2,288-190. In June 1950, a proposed district library vote in Kankakee County lost 1,955-240, largely due to fear of additional taxes. A 1952 study showed that the demonstration program led directly to the formation of only three district libraries.370

The demonstration program was phased out in 1951. Some of its bookmobiles were loaned to local libraries, including the public libraries of Rockford, East St. Louis, and Danville. Other bookmobiles went to Illinois school districts, such as Alton. In some cases, public libraries and schools purchased their own bookmobiles to replace former service by state vehicles. But the demonstration program, for all its publicity and ability to bring free reading material to rural Illinoisans, is remembered mostly as a failure in the history of the State Library.371