Special Libraries and Special-Needs Patrons

The State Library was still greatly concerned with services for special-needs patrons in the 1970s based on recent surveys. The 1967 Planning Library Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Illinois study calculated that 400,000 Illinois residents could benefit from materials for the visually and physically challenged. In March 1969, the Shawnee and Bur Oak Library Systems opened sub depositories for materials for special-needs patrons. Within two years, 10 more library systems became sub depositories of talking books, recordings, and tapes. Physical accessibility was still a major concern, with 98 percent of potential users unable to easily visit libraries, instead depending heavily on telephone and mail services to access materials.728

Over the course of the 1970s, an increasing number of projects were designed to meet the needs of the visually impaired. Many of these programs were initiated by the Department of the Blind and Physically Handicapped at the Chicago Public Library, which had been designated by the Library of Congress as a depository for such materials. Other programs were initiated by, or in conjunction with, the Johanna Bureau for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, Inc., a nonprofit Chicago firm that transcribed materials otherwise unavailable for people who could not read or hold a regular book. Beginning in 1972, grants from the State Library to the Johanna Bureau enabled the production of more Talking Books. That form of visually impaired media would be embraced by the library systems throughout the 1970s.729

Additional funded projects from 1972 to 1979 allowed the enhancement of collections with Braille transcriptions, large print or taped materials, and specialized audiovisual materials. In 1973, a cassette/slide presentation of library services for the visually and physically disabled was produced as part of a public relations program for the State Library. The emotional and financial commitment of the State Library to programs for the blind and physically disabled continued to strengthen as the 1970s progressed. The State Library contributed $1 million toward the construction of a new Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Chicago in 1977. (See Appendix A for additional programs).730

Libraries in correctional facilities were also emphasized. Correctional library service was the topic of the September 1974 issue of Illinois Libraries, which noted a “growing realization among concerned citizens in the United States for the rights of prisoners” and their “right to read.” Prison inmate outreach was nothing new to the State Library; prisoners had been among the most active users of the adult education reading courses in the 1940s and 1950s. In 1968, the State Library contracted with Social Educational Research and Development, Inc. (SERD) of Silver Spring, Maryland to compile a study of library service in state institutions. It was one of several studies commissioned by the library with SERD. The 1968 study examined existing library service and needs in 63 state institutions, including prisons, hospitals, and long-term care facilities. The “goals, objectives, and functions” of institutional libraries were considered, as were guidelines for quality service, volunteer and nonprofessional staff training, and programs geared to inmates, residents, or patients. The study, citing the recommended standards of the American Correctional Association, determined that library services for state correctional institutions’ residents and staff were practically nonexistent.731

The study recommended a coordinated effort, supervised by the State Library, to improve institutional library services. It also urged a “unified plan” for library service in the institutions operated by the Illinois Youth Commission, Department of Public Safety, Children and Family Services, Department of Public Health, and Department of Mental Health. While the recommendations were not implemented, the study did lead to eventual improvements. These included appointment of the State Library’s first consultant for professional institutional services in April 1971 and subsequent discussions on the topic among various state departments. In 1970, the American Library Association published the study nationally under the title Institutional Library Service, a Plan for the State of Illinois. Also in 1970, the first institutional library workshop discussing the needs of those libraries in Illinois was funded through the LSCA. In May 1971, the Starved Rock Library System initiated the first program for library services to the institutionalized.732

In 1972, a system-based program to improve library service to correctional facilities was funded. Bearing the lengthy title of “The Regional Library System-Based Library Service to Residents of State Correctional Facilities Project,” the $200,000 program was co-funded by the State Library, the Illinois Department of Corrections, and the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission. Eleven of the 18 library systems had correctional facilities within their borders in 1972. Pilot programs began in the Starved Rock and Bur Oak Library Systems, with experimentation at the latter continuing with federal monies until 1974. In 1978, the Starved Rock system received a grant for automation in its institutional library services.733

Prisoners proved to be avid library users. A 1983 study of Illinois correctional facilities showed that 84 percent of inmates said they used the prison library, with 30 percent reporting usage of twice a week or more. About 48 percent used materials in the library, with 46 percent checking out materials for use in their cells. Of those interviewed, 77 percent were currently reading a book or a magazine. The study also found that many inmates learned to read while in prison. Prison inmates spoke clearly and honestly about their library service:

“Books are our only companions.”

“If there were no library, it would be like walking
around with my head cut off.”

“When you ain’t got it, you want it.”734

In some systems, institutional library facilities consumed a great deal of time and money. The Shawnee Library System reported that as much as 40 percent of its budget and staff was involved with service to institutions. The State Library continued to promote institutional services until 1989, when correctional library service was transferred to the Illinois Department of Corrections.735