Chapter 14 – Coming of Age — The 1970s

More than any decade before, the 1970s opened with the Illinois State Library enjoying a position of unprecedented leadership and respect from its peers. Now among the most influential of state libraries, the library chose to break with past practices.

For decades, the State Library had served as a lending library. Loaning millions of books to public and school libraries, as well as directly to patrons in areas unserved by libraries, it was literally a library for all Illinoisans. However, this generous practice began to attract critics in the 1950s and 1960s, who charged that the State Library was actually providing a disincentive to the development of public and school libraries. Some library administrators admitted that, as long as the State Library was willing to loan books, there was little reason for smaller libraries to make any effort to grow themselves. With the creation and growth of library systems, there was less need for the State Library to be an on-call lender. The State Library was now providing more administrative oversight than direct service. In addition, Secretary of State Paul Powell reminded state residents that a primary goal of the State Library was to serve Illinois state government. Although this traditional duty had never changed, it was often overshadowed by the library’s quest to facilitate free reading for state residents.634

In 1970, the State Library discontinued direct loans to schools and individuals. Only state employees could borrow directly from the State Library, and then only for work-related materials. The last day of unrestricted borrowing was July 1, 1970, nicknamed the “purge date,” short for Director Trezza’s bureaucratically titled “Patron Purge Project Phase I.” For decades, unserved Illinois residents had counted on materials from the State Library. Now they would be served totally by the systems.635

With the change in lending policies, there was a greatly reduced need for many materials in the collection and, therefore, space for their storage. Eventually, many materials were removed from the collection and transferred to the systems. Most of 11,222 recordings and scores and librettos from the Recordings Unit were also loaned to the systems, along with 3,557 mounted, matted art prints. After this, only framed art print reproductions were purchased, and those only for examination or exhibit. The library systems, and special institutions such as correctional facilities, were allowed to select juvenile books for long-term loans. By 1971, a total of 82,000 juvenile books and 72,000 works of fiction were placed on 99-year loans.636

The termination of the juvenile collection marked the end of an era in State Library philosophy. Children’s books had once been among the most popular selections, and the State Library took great pride in its ability to bring books to the youngsters of the state. In 1971, Assistant Director of Public Services Albert Halcli summarized the importance of juvenile books to the library and its readers.

“The Juvenile Unit has been part of the library for decades, and it would be cold-blooded to dismiss the unit without at least a few words on the work it has accomplished. Early in this century the State Library started sending out large supplementary collections of juvenile books on a long-term loan basis to rural schools and public libraries. For many years this service was one of our most important functions. Many older residents of the state can still recall the glow they experienced when the boxes arrived from the State Library at their one-room country school.

“The pupils of these rural schools could not have known the joys of reading had they not have had access to State Library books. The majority of the public libraries were very limited in resources and could not have given their patrons much service without the collections which they obtained from the Illinois State Library. The passing of the Juvenile Unit has caused more than one twinge of nostalgia. But if it had to give way, it has done so with the assurance that its mission was accomplished.”637

Also discontinued in 1971 was the Adult Education Section, which had greatly decreased in popularity. By the 1970s, it was used predominately by members of the Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs as well as “residents of state-supported institutions,” such as prison inmates. In early 1971, the Adult Education Section was transferred to the Library Development Group to “be evaluated and revised in line with statewide library services and the State Library’s policies.” Apparently, the “evaluation” proved negative, for adult education was dropped later that year. Once an integral part of library services, especially in the 1930s and 1940s, adult education had been responsible for much positive publicity and had reached thousands of patrons across the state. Its discontinuation marked another break with the library’s past.638

The outflow of the juvenile and fiction materials coincided with another physical shift in the collection. When the Centennial Building was completed in 1923, it consisted of only one wing. As the years passed, three additional wings were added, creating a square structure. The last two wings were finished by 1966, and the increase in space allowed for more library storage. Since 1923, the State Library had shared space with the Illinois State Historical Library, separated in the reading room only by a walnut bookcase adorned with a clock. Starting in 1966, however, the Old State Capitol was disassembled, stone by stone, and moved to storage while a large underground space was excavated on the site. That underground space contained parking as well as new quarters for the historical library. By 1970, the work was complete, and the historical library began its move.639

After relocation of the historical library, all pre-1962 periodicals, which were warehoused offsite in Springfield, were moved back to the Centennial Building. Albert Halcli lamented that these materials “were ejected often enough by one landlord or another, to get them hopelessly jumbled and piled together.” Return of these periodicals in 1970 took “a permanent staff of three people one year to put them back into order again.” Equally dire was the situation in the Archives Building, which housed the Documents Unit staff and Illinois Out-of-State Documents. Halcli dryly noted that “the people in the Archives Building told us that their hospitality was wearing thin and they would wish us well if we went elsewhere.”640

Now, the Reference Department and some of the bookstacks were moved into the former historical library space. The Illinois Documents Unit was moved to the Centennial Building in 1971. Still, the Centennial Building was woefully inadequate for the State Library’s long-term needs. Sagging floors led to emergency moves of heavy filing cabinets and other materials and worries over structural stability. While the newly found space was sorely needed, the historical library’s newer, larger quarters was another reminder that the State Library had again been passed over for a new building. The library’s old rival, the Illinois State Museum, had moved to a brand-new facility in the early 1960s and now, as the decade closed, the Illinois State Historical Library enjoyed a similar success.641

A view of the State Library reading room in the late-1970s. The walnut divider in the center partitioned the State Library from the Illinois State Historical Library prior to the latter’s move to the Old State Capitol in 1970.

A view of the State Library reading room in the late-1970s. The walnut divider in the center partitioned the State Library from the Illinois State Historical Library prior to the latter’s move to the Old State Capitol in 1970.

A 1970 federally funded survey examined current and future space needs of the State Library. The survey found the obvious – the library’s space problems were painfully apparent. More disappointingly, the survey findings would be largely ignored for over a decade. In April 1970, Democratic leaders in the Illinois Senate introduced legislation for $1.2 million in appropriations for a new State Library building. The funds were to be used for possible site acquisition, architectural planning and design, and other planning issues. Planning was to begin immediately, but construction was to be delayed until the next legislative session, when more money could be sought. At the same time, a $2.6 million appropriation bill for a new motor vehicle facility lay in the Senate, as well as a $2.3 million request for “utility needs of certain new buildings” and an $8.3 million appropriation for the Capitol rehabilitation. No action was taken on the library request.642

The following year, a $9 million appropriation for building projects was introduced that included a $25,000 stipend for a study of a new State Library building. In 1972, the Capitol City Planning Commission announced plans for a proposed architectural design contest for a new State Library building. The commission unanimously favored a site somewhere in the Capitol Complex, including the south parking lot of the State Office Building (now the Stratton Building) on Spring Street. The cost was projected at $13-$15 million. The proposal was to include underground parking to “compensate for the parking spaces lost due to the building.” Under the contest rules,  architectural firms were to submit, at no cost to the state, plans for the building, with 10 plans to be selected as finalists. Each firm was to be paid a set fee for the plans before the winner was selected. But the contest was apparently aborted and no further announcements followed. The State Library spent the rest of the 1970s and beyond in its same cramped quarters. In 1974, the library reported that some areas of the stacks “had to be moved to get to other stacks and then moved back to make room for aisles.”643

In October 1970, the State Library suffered the loss of two strong supporters. On October 1, de Lafayette Reid, the beloved former Deputy State Librarian, was in Springfield to attend a banquet honoring Secretary of State Paul Powell. Late that evening, Reid fell ill and was taken to Memorial Hospital, where he died at 9:30 p.m. from an apparent heart attack. Reid, who was only 55 years old, was mourned not only in Springfield but throughout the Illinois library community, by those who remembered “Laf” for his genial demeanor and vision in the development of interlibrary cooperation.644

A week later, Secretary Powell left for a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for a physical examination. However, he was found dead in his hotel suite in the late evening of Saturday, October 10. The State Library, and libraries around the state, lost a good friend with Powell’s death. He had been instrumental in the passage and funding of the Library Development Act and constantly promoted library bills in the Illinois legislature.645

Powell also had a strong interest in Illinois history, including the history of the State Library. When the Old State Capitol renovation was completed in 1969, Powell became interested in the story of a bust of Abraham Lincoln, sculpted by T.D. Jones of Cincinnati, Ohio, originally intended for display in the State Library. No order for the bust was placed at that time. Over a century later, Powell arranged to obtain a copy of the bust for the library, as planned in 1861.646

Less than a year before his death, Powell became interested in two other state artifacts with connections to the State Library – 9-foot-high oil paintings of George Washington and General Marquis de Lafayette. The paintings by Illinois artist James Berry were hung in the Old State Capitol when the building was completed in 1840. The Washington portrait was placed over the Speaker’s chair in the House chamber, while the Lafayette painting was hung in the Senate chamber. The paintings moved with state government to the new Capitol Building, where they hung in the State Library’s quarters on the third floor of the west wing. When the library moved to the Centennial Building in 1923, the paintings remained in the Capitol before being relocated to the Illinois Archives Building shortly after its completion in 1938. Powell, however, determined the paintings should return to the Capitol Building. After ordering the restoration of both, the Secretary presented the portraits to Governor Richard Ogilvie on Nov. 13, 1969.647

In his five years in office, Paul Powell became one of the most active 20th-century Secretaries of State in State Library affairs. In a May 16, 1966, speech to the Chicago Library Club, he praised the role of the State Library:

“As a legislator, I often called on its resources. As an administrator, I should be remiss if I were to deny its good to all citizens who at some time or other must wish for information, for relaxation, for consolation.”648

The State Library reading room in 1978 reveals clutter resulting from the glaring lack of space in the library quarters.

The State Library reading room in 1978 reveals clutter resulting from the glaring lack of space in the library quarters.