The Library Services and Construction Act

The success of the Library Services Act led its expansion into areas beyond rural service. Librarians believed there had been too much emphasis on the categories of rural, public, school, and other types of libraries. Service was the most important consideration. Newer thinking stressed the need for a comprehensive improvement of library services for all citizens, regardless of where they lived. This was especially true for an increasingly urban population. On June 27, 1962, Dr. Robert Downs testified at a hearing before the General Subcommittee on Education of the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor. The subject was H.R. 11823, which aimed to broaden the Library Services Act. Downs’ statement summarized the growing belief that library legislation should apply to all residents.548

“In the past we have tended to think of particular aspects of the library field, attempting, for example, to deal with the needs and problems of public libraries, or school libraries, or libraries in institutions of higher education in isolation. We have come to realize that national library service is an indivisible whole.”549

After years of being ignored, library needs at last became a serious legislative issue. Library agencies from around the nation joined in the call for legislation to ensure enhanced service across all states. Their efforts paid off once again when, in early 1964, Congress amended the Library Services Act and renamed it. On Feb. 11, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the new Library Services and Construction Act, another milestone in American library history.550

The Library Services and Construction Act marked two significant changes from its predecessor. Library projects were now allowed in urban, as well as rural, areas lacking library service or where service was inadequate. Funds for the construction of public libraries were also provided. Appropriations were much higher than in the original Library Services Act. Under the new law, the appropriation for Title I (public library services) for fiscal year 1965 was $25 million. The Illinois allotment was $1,193,838 for Title I, with required contributions from state or local sources totaling $1,744,479. About $30 million was appropriated to Title II (public library construction). Illinois was to receive $1,509,614, with matching contributions of $2,205,902.551

On June 30, 1964, eight years of the old Library Services Act came to an end. Its legacy on American librarianship was substantial. Over 40 million rural Americans received new or improved library service, and over 12 million library materials became available to those residents. A total of $162.5 million, including federal, state, and local funds, were spent. In Illinois, federal monies totaled $1,434,498, while matching expenditures were $3,314,278. The Library Services Act had served its purpose well. Now it was up to Illinois and the other states to ensure the same success for the Library Services and Construction Act.552

Much of the January 1965 issue of Illinois Libraries was devoted to the new act. A thorough explanation was provided, as was complete text of the law itself, concluding that six “significant areas…in connection with any state plan” would best utilize the funding from the act. One was centralization, which focused on technical processing, reference, bibliographic services, and audio-visual collections. The second was a need for improved interlibrary cooperation, which was called “the most talked about, least acted upon concept in librarianship today.” Library research was third, followed by library services for special populations, including culturally diverse groups, the poor, unemployed, retired, or disabled. Increased professional staff and recruitment was fifth, with library construction sixth. Many of these six points, including the Library Research Center at the University of Illinois and the calls for more and better-trained library professionals, had been emphasized by the State Library for years. Within months, the recommendations of Robert Rohlf for comprehensive library systems would further spotlight these “significant areas.”553

In 1964, the library added five new Library Services and Construction Act projects, continuing the overall goals of extension in urban as well as rural areas. One project was the Rolling Prairie Library Service, which gave monies to the Decatur Public Library to provide services to libraries within a 30-mile radius of Decatur. Libraries in Argenta, Bethany, Clinton, and Illiopolis entered into the agreement, with headquarters based at the Decatur Public Library. Weekly service to each smaller library was provided with a bookmobile on loan from the State Library. Other services included sheaf catalogs, field advisory services, interlibrary loans, reference service, loans of film and microfilm, and book and picture selection.554

A similar effort was the Western Illinois System, funded to create a headquarters library in Western Illinois to provide services to libraries within a 50-mile radius. The Warren County Library in Monmouth was designated as headquarters. An expansion of interstate service to public libraries in Burlington and Fort Madison, Iowa, was also explored. The Western Illinois System was based on the Western Illinois Film Cooperative and was another example of the burgeoning movement toward interstate library service.555

Three projects were in the Chicago area. One, the Skokie-Twin Oaks Contractual Service Project, enabled the Skokie Public Library to provide library service to the unincorporated residential area of Twin Oaks. This experimental program was instigated by requests from an area developer and Twin Oaks residents. A regular bookmobile from Skokie served Twin Oaks, but the project lasted only one year despite heavy usage. It was terminated due to the “fact that the area served was not contiguous with Skokie.” After the project ended in 1965, other nearby communities eventually annexed the service area.556

The Oak Park Public Library, long an active participant in State Library programs, was also a recipient of a 1964 project to provide technical processing service to suburban libraries in the Oak Park area. The center opened on May 1, 1964, with a staff of 17 fulltime employees. Twenty-eight area libraries were involved in the project, which offered complete ordering, cataloging, classification and mechanical preparation of books and materials for the cost of $1.20 per volume. Service under the Oak Park Centralized Processing Project was done by contract, requiring member libraries to spend at least 75 percent of their book budgets through the center. Federal funds helped reduce costs. The $50,000 cost of the project was more than the budgets of the Southern, Northern, and Western Illinois Regional Libraries, which had become Library Services Act projects of 1962.557

Even more monies were allotted to the Chicago Public Library Services Project, which received total funding of $229,800. The Chicago Public Library was to “assist in the strengthening of its general book collections.” The project was intended to speed up the rate of library materials acquisition and improve service from several Chicago Public Library entities, the central library, three regional branches, and “branches in culturally deprived communities,” as well as “support and improvement of services to the blind.” Services to special-needs patrons received additional emphasis in the coming years with the influx of federal funding.558

A new emphasis on library development in Illinois continued to emerge. For decades, the Illinois State Library had attempted to spread public library service to unserved areas. But new avenues needed to be explored, and the State Library knew it. It was not alone. A national trend to strengthen existing library service, regardless of urban or rural locale, was taking hold. The change was seen in the passage of the Library Services and Construction Act, which allowed for improvements in urban library service and the erection of new library buildings. The State Library, the Illinois Library Association, de Lafayette Reid, and library leaders statewide were ready to embrace a new plan to ensure free library service for all state residents.559