Meeting the Challenge

Since the dawn of the 20th century, the State Library had committed itself to the development of Illinois public libraries. Growth of many of those libraries had been slow, but overall, steady progress had been made. By the 1970s, more Illinoisans had access to public libraries than ever before, but much remained to be done. Of the 11.1 million-plus residents of Illinois in 1970, more than 20 percent lacked access to public library service without paying a nonresident fee. More than 625,000 of these were in four southern rural systems – Shawnee, Cumberland Trail, Lewis and Clark, and Kaskaskia. Surprisingly, another 600,000 came from suburban Chicago. As Robert Rohlf noted a decade earlier, library service was failing to keep up with overall population growth.695

Existing libraries were also struggling with inadequate service. Of Illinois’ 510 public libraries in 1970, 285 served populations of 5,000 or less. Slightly more than 40 percent of those libraries held collections of less than 10,000 volumes. While accepted public library standards “recommend a book stock of from three to four per capita,” the state’s 18 library systems had a collective per-capita holding of 1.42, with the Western Illinois Library System leading the way at 2.42. Only 37 percent of Illinoisans with access to libraries actually used them. Standards called for libraries to be open a minimum of 20 hours per week, but 139 Illinois libraries were “unable or unwilling” to do so.696

The State Library was well aware of the statewide service problems and offered a detailed solution in 1972. Meeting the Challenge: Illinois State Library’s Long-Range Program for Library Development in Illinois 1972-77 was the most comprehensive plan for library development ever created by the State Library. Meeting the Challenge was an amalgamation of short-range and long-range plans, succinctly stated in 19 pages of text that clearly recognized Illinois library needs. It also contained a key philosophical departure from past State Library objectives. Previously, such plans targeted undeveloped, or underdeveloped, library service, which had been at the heart of the 1956 Library Services Act. With amendment for urban areas, this remained the focus of the subsequent Library Services and Construction Act. Now the State Library was reversing course. Rather than concentrating on deficiencies, the library wanted to build on strengths. A 1980 analysis declared that the State Library “envisioned the use of existing strength and the creation of new strength.”697

National and state public library standards were the underpinnings for Meeting the Challenge. Professional attitudes and practices – long overlooked by state library administrators, notably Helene Rogers – were also considered in the formation of the plan. Community libraries, especially smaller public libraries, were encouraged to meet minimum librarianship standards. Larger public and academic libraries were called beyond “primary clientele” to look at specialneeds clients. In the past, the State Library had been challenged in setting well-defined goals. Failure to do so led to the downfalls of the 1940s demonstration project and the 1950s regional service centers. By the 1970s, the library set clear goals with plans on how to reach them.698

The State Library was also receiving attention from the General Assembly, which had routinely overlooked the library for years at a time. Now, State Library acts were frequently updated. Meeting the Challenge listed the State Library’s “most impelling objectives” in the 1971 Revised Statutes.

  • The promotion and development of cooperative library networks operating regionally or statewide to provide effective coordination of library resources of public, academic, school, and special libraries.
  • The promotion, support, and implementation of library services on a statewide basis for the cultural, educational, and economic development of the state and the inhabitants of the state.
  • The promotion, support, implementation, and maintenance of library services on a state level for all state officers, offices, the General Assembly, the Judiciary, and all state agencies, bodies, and commissions.699

In less than a decade, Illinois and its State Library had become firmly committed to the development of the library systems. While the systems were progressing at a satisfactory rate, there was still concern that development of individual libraries was slower than expected. The state also recognized libraries’ importance in Illinois education, cultural awareness, and economic well-being. Libraries were no longer a luxury; they were increasingly seen as vital to the quality of life for Illinois residents. The five “foremost” responsibilities of the library were:

  • To support formal education, from pre-kindergarten through graduate and professional schools.
  • To sustain the increasingly complex operations of the government and the economy of the country.
  • To provide opportunities for continuing selfeducation.
  • To play a role in the reintegration into the society of groups now largely isolated and excluded by their lacks in education and training.
  • To provide resources for an informed public opinion and personal, cultural, and intellectual growth and individuation.700

The State Library now had a collection of 555,027 books, over three-quarters of a million federal and state documents, and a budgeted staff of 152 (although only 140 were actually employed in 1973). Its Centennial Building quarters had proven inadequate for a half century. Continued growth now rendered those quarters even more untenable. Meeting the Challenge declared that “to house the projected activities of the State Library will require 250,000 square feet,” almost five times the space available in the Centennial Building. The Library Development Group, which played an integral role in the financial and administrative support of Illinois libraries, was forced to relocate three blocks south of the library. This arrangement was an obvious hindrance to State Library operations.701

Development of the systems was at the heart of Meeting the Challenge. The major objective was “to provide means for libraries of all types to work together in an attempt to serve the informational, educational, intellectual, and cultural needs of the people of Illinois, thus to provide the assurance of excellent library service to all the people of the state.” Nine activities were to receive “encouragement” to meet the objective. One was to develop  organizations modeled on the Illinois Regional Library Council, whose members included multitype libraries in the Chicago area. Another was the development of “joint programs” with “cooperative relationships based on programs serving the clientele of two or more types of libraries.”702

Third was a Governor’s Conference on Total Access, intended to “provide all the people of the state adequate and convenient access to intellectual records when they need them, where they need them, and in a form and at intellectual levels suitable to their needs.” This included libraries, print, and electronic media. Fourth, and possibly most important, was the expansion of the “network,” or systems, by allowing academic libraries to “initiate requests” for interlibrary loans and reference assistance from the four Reference and Research Centers. Fifth was the development of educational programs on the “techniques and opportunities” in networking. Workshops, seminars, and lectures for continuing education of library workers continued. This included enhanced communication between users and resource centers, faster delivery of materials and information, and a better understanding of the needs of users at all types of libraries.703

The seventh criteria, “identification of special subject strengths,” reflected the “building on strength” philosophy that guided Meeting the Challenge on the whole. Efforts to locate the subject strengths of public, academic, and special libraries were scheduled for late 1972. Development of resource and research collections in the regional resource centers followed. One example was the Vivian G. Harsh collection of African-American History and  Literature within the Chicago Public Library (see Appendix A). Continued effort at automation was ninth, with the State Library aiming to create a list of its holdings on MARC tape by 1975.704

One example of a “joint program” that met these nine objectives was establishment of Children’s Book Review and Examination Centers in 1972. Partially funded by the State Library, the centers were intended to provide an opportunity for school librarians, teachers, children’s librarians from public libraries, library school students, authors, and the general public to examine all types of children’s publications. Fourteen of the 18 library systems took part in the initial program, and 15 participated when the program was renewed in 1974. A total of 45 book publishers also participated in the effort, which was cited as one of the “joint programs between types of libraries” outlined in Meeting the Challenge. Collections for each “center” were housed either in systems headquarters, or in member libraries with adequate space and professionals who were committed to the development of the centers. Federally funded programs like the Book Review and Examination Centers were typical of the programs approved by the State Library throughout the 1970s.705