Chapter 15 – Maturity and Leadership — The 1980s

As the 1980s arrived, the Illinois State Library had clearly established itself as one of the greatest of American state libraries. Its collections had grown at a high rate, and its role in development of the library systems had earned the State Library national respect for its leadership and foresight. Automation had been effectively implemented to streamline library operations both in Springfield and statewide. And the library had successfully adhered to its mission of serving state government.

Only a few decades before, the library had struggled with poor funding, controversial leadership, and a lack of respect among Illinois libraries. Now, few of those problems existed. In fiscal year 1982, the State Library boasted a budget of $27.8 million. Of that total, $24.9 million was distributed to the library systems, with $2.9 million remaining for direct operations of the State Library, an increase of 61 percent from eight years earlier. About 88 percent of the entire budget came from state appropriations, with the remainder coming from federal funding. The Illinois policy was different than elsewhere in that Illinois used federal dollars strictly for public library development; many other states used federal funds to supplement their own state library budgets. Illinois’ 18 library systems received over $15.9 million of the total budget (an increase from $6.6 million in 1974) with some $4.8 million going to public libraries. The R & R centers accounted for $775,000.795

The total budget was a 60 percent increase from fiscal year 1973, and state funding had risen 174 percent in the same period. Much of the increase was due to employee compensation, although the number of staff had actually fallen from 152 budgeted positions in 1973 to 108 nine years later. Twenty budgeted positions were eliminated in fiscal year 1980 alone. Some job losses were attributed to the increase in technology. However, others were strictly budgetdriven and were a precursor of controversial staff cuts to come over the next quarter-century. In 1980, State Library workers negotiated a contract with the Federation of State Library Employees. State Library staffers also felt increasingly secure with the election of Jim Edgar as Secretary of State in 1980. Edgar is remembered for his high interest in his role as State Librarian.796

With implementation of automated systems, including OCLC, the traditional workload of library staff was declining. Since the early 1970s, the library had reduced its focus on holdings, and the volume of materials acquisitions had declined steadily. In fiscal year 1981, only 16,600 books were added to the collection. The reduction was attributed not only to the cuts in the book-buying budget but also to reduced purchasing power of that budget (which stood at $436,000 in 1982). The price of individual books had risen sharply, a reflection of the inflationary times of the era and the increasing cost of publishing that drove up book costs. Downsizing of the collection continued in 1982 with the closing of the audiovisual collection, which was distributed to the systems.797

While documents continued to flow into the library, the rate slowed. Around 226,000 federal documents were added in 1976, falling nearly 50,000 by 1981. The volume of serials increased in that same span from 54,000 to 85,000, however, and the number of state documents rose from 20,000 to 67,000. Circulation also declined. Between 1978 and 1981, the number of items circulated by the State Library fell from 170,000 to 110,000. Interlibrary loan requests dropped 46 percent during that same period. Reference requests dropped sharply in 1981, falling from 67,000 in 1980 to 48,000. These declines were expected, with the systems increasingly providing the services once provided by the State Library.798

However, the library was spending more energy – and money – in the administration of automated systems. For a decade, the State Library had demonstrated a commitment to funding automation in the systems. A redoubled effort began in 1980 with the Intra-System Computerized Resource Sharing Circulation Control Program. Although its name was unwieldy, its objective was simple: distribute more grants from the State Library to increase automated circulation in the systems as well as interlibrary loan. OCLC also continued to grow rapidly. The number of contracting institutions in OCLC stood at 190 in June 1982, a nearly twofold increase from just three years earlier. In all, 3,000 institutions and 4,000 terminals were hooked up to OCLC nationwide. The spread of OCLC required added funding, and the State Library was willing to shoulder the load. The cost of OCLC had increased from $130,000 in fiscal 1975 to over $1.1 million four years later. That figure nearly doubled to $2.1 million in fiscal 1981. Distribution of both state and federal funds was continuing to establish the State Library as a “pass-through agency,” a center that received, and distributed, monies for various purposes. As the 1980s and 1990s progressed, the library would even more actively play that role.799

Although spending at the State Library was at an all-time high, funding was not a pressing issue. Even with appropriations stagnating in recent years, the State Library and the systems remained adequately funded. In 1982, system grants were increased for the first time in four years. Now, the systems received $1.06 per capita (an increase of 6 cents) and $37.27 per square mile (up from $35). While Illinois libraries had accomplished much in the past decade, much remained to be done. High levels of funding helped make that possible.800

The State Library had achieved its long-desired position of national leadership. Under the vision of de Lafayette Reid, the library had begun its ascent to national prominence in the early 1960s. Alphonse Trezza had declared in 1971 that he wanted a State Library that was second to none. Now his leadership and the calm guidance of Kay Gesterfield made that dream a reality. The Illinois State Library was considered one of the most progressive of state libraries because of its commitment to develop ILLINET. In addition, it was cited in the top three among state libraries in the field of automation. The size, comprehensiveness, and versatility of the automated programs utilized in Illinois put its State Library in an enviable position.801

Locally, the State Library was also fulfilling its mission to state government. About two-thirds of all materials circulated by the State Library in 1981 went  to government employees, who made about 40 percent of all reference requests. One observer reported in 1982 that the library’s Information Services Branch was “conscientious and courteous” in responding to the requests of government employees, who in turn expressed their satisfaction at the level of service at the library.802

As the library continued moving forward, it shed some remnants of its past. In 1980, the Illinois State Library Scholarship Program, which had been created in 1961 to address the shortage of trained library personnel, was terminated. In its 19 years, the program had awarded 212 graduate scholarships in the field of library science to qualified college graduates. The scholarships were originally intended for full-time study, but in 1974, part-time graduate study was allowed to encourage library employees to enroll on a more limited basis. As the manpower shortage diminished, the State Library gradually phased out many of its efforts to promote library careers, including the scholarship program. The program proved successful during its entire duration. A federally funded 1983 evaluation of the scholarship program found that nearly three-quarters of recipients were still employed in “library or library-related positions.” Many were active in professional library organizations, while a substantial number of graduates held management positions and had contributed to library science literature. The scholarship program had proven so successful that it was reinstated in 1987.803

An artist’s rendition of the proposed State Library building in the mid-1980s.

An artist’s rendition of the proposed State Library building in the mid-1980s.

In 1981, the decision was made to close the Illinois Library Materials Processing Center in Rockford. Established in 1969, the ILMPC was intended to ease the strain of cataloging on smaller public libraries. Centralized cataloging became a key issue at the State Library in the early 1960s, which led to the creation of the Oak Park Processing Center in 1964 and its successor in Rockford five years later. While clients of the center generally expressed satisfaction with its services, a federally funded 1980 evaluation found that the potential of the center had not been realized. The evaluation also found that an effective public relations effort was needed to build awareness of the center’s services. More importantly, the center continued to suffer poor financial health despite heavy funding from the State Library, which normally directed over $100,000 in LSCA funds to the center annually throughout the 1970s, including $270,000 in 1975. The study determined that the center was “providing satisfactory service” but would “require continued subsidization in the foreseeable future plus relief from its present indebtedness.” Also, any growth in volume at the center would have required adjustments in either the subsidy or the price structure. The discontinuation of the ILMPC was one of many breaks with the past for the State Library in the 1970s and 1980s.804