Measures of Quality

The cramped quarters are evident in this photo of the State Library reading room in the mid-1980s.

The cramped quarters are evident in this photo of the State Library reading room in the mid-1980s.

While the State Library was enjoying a position of national leadership, there was always room for improve ment. In 1982, a management survey of the library by Cresap, McCormick, and Paget (the same firm hired by the library for the 1967 management study) provided an evenhanded look at the day-to-day operations of the library. Unlike the scathing surveys of the 1950s, the 1982 study lauded the many achievements of the State Library while providing constructive criticism. The criticisms were carefully considered and many suggestions were implemented, a continuing departure from the 1950s practices of “turning a deaf ear” to outside suggestion.

As expected, the survey found that the physical facilities of the Centennial Building were highly inadequate and that any possibility of renovating the building had “not been given sufficient attention.” Even though the number of employees and size of the collections were dwindling, the space problem was not going away. While a “tentative decision” to build a new facility had been made and an architect had been hired, a new building was still several years down the road. And there was little thought of refurbishing the current quarters in the Centennial Building.805

The survey also found the position of State Library Director to be “overburdened” with responsibility. Noting the high demands for “internal planning” and “external contact,” the survey recommended the immediate hiring of a deputy director to ease the burden. That need was addressed with the appointment of Bridget Lamont as deputy director in 1981. The survey also called for more staff to cope with expanded services being offered by the library, including coordination of the network.806

The survey also criticized the library’s five-year plan and planning processes as “inadequate,” with objectives and procedures not clearly stated. It also found that many believed the annual Basic State Plan to simply be a “pro forma document submitted to meet federal requirements.” Procedures for internal monitoring and reporting were also found to be weak (no annual or biennial report had been filed since 1965), and human resources management and fiscal policies also needed improvement. Vacancies on the staff had not been “properly filled” and, as a result, there were 12 fewer employees than were budgeted. The survey also declared “a realistic and comprehensive plan for a coordinated statewide network had not been established,” and that there was a lack of understanding for the “current capabilities of the state’s library community” and the future potential of the network.807

As with the 1967 survey, major efforts to reorganize and streamline State Library administration were made as a result of the 1982 findings. However, it must be remembered that, despite the negative findings, the State Library was making great strides in developing ILLINET and implementing automation internally and in the systems. While the recommendations were, in many cases, valid and welcomed by library staff, there were many positives at the library. Indeed, the State Library was in the process of revolutionizing librarianship within the state.808

The library also continued to be active in promoting standards for public libraries. A federally funded 1971 project, jointly sponsored by the State Library and the Illinois Library Association, had resulted in Measures of Quality, a comprehensive analysis of most library activities. Among the topics covered were service, materials, selection, organization, structure and government, control, personnel, and physical facilities. The document was partially in response to slower-than-expected public library development in the early years of the network. In 1981, the Public Library Section of the ILA, whose membership included many State Library staffers, embarked on a 16-month effort to update the 1971 standards. Contemporary topics such as input and output measures and the overall planning process (a subject receiving much attention by the State Library) were incorporated into the draft.809

The result was Measures of Quality II, released in the fall of 1982 as Avenues to Excellence: Standards for Illinois Public Libraries. This document became the hallmark for public library standards in Illinois throughout the 1980s. Avenues to Excellence was so well received by the Illinois library community that it was reprinted in Illinois Libraries twice. Librarians lauded Avenues to Excellence for its flexibility in addressing the individual needs of Illinois libraries. Albert Halcli, who was now a systems consultant, declared Avenues to Excellence “a true milestone in the approach to library development.”810

However, there was still much to be done. While development of the systems had substantially reduced the number of Illinoisans unserved by public libraries, by 1980 nearly 1.7 million Illinois residents remained without access to free reading. This constituted 14.6 percent of the state’s population. While a noticeable decline from the nearly 21 percent unserved in 1963, development of the systems and successful programs such as Project PLUS were not entirely closing the gap. Illinois was one of 11 states – and the most populous – that reported over 10 percent of residents without library service. By comparison, 19 states, including those with influential state libraries such as New York, California, and Ohio, reported 100 percent of their population served by public libraries.811

But Illinois libraries, and the State Library itself, were on the cusp of great change under Jim Edgar, who was elected Secretary of State in 1980. A Republican from Charleston, Edgar embraced his role as State Librarian as few others had done. Part of his interest was due to his love of books; Edgar and his wife, Brenda, were avid readers who owned a sizable personal library. Edgar believed that Illinoisans had a right to the best libraries possible. He also recognized that many state residents were unable to enjoy what libraries had to offer because of low literacy. Despite the state’s best efforts to fund education, hundreds of thousands of Illinoisans could not read at minimum levels. As the 1980s progressed, literacy would become a point of high emphasis for both Edgar and the State Library.812

Edgar also became personally involved in the library community. He traveled the state, visiting libraries and hearing the concerns of library staffers. Edgar also attended countless library conferences and actively participated in discussions. At one American Library Association convention, Edgar spent hours viewing exhibits and talking with book vendors and automation experts. Clearly in his element when surrounded by librarians, Edgar was always willing to listen and learn, and his captivation with libraries gave him a personal stake in the development of libraries statewide.813

Other states took notice. Soon, state library officials from around the nation were calling the Illinois State Library inquiring how to get their elected officials as involved as Edgar. For many years, Illinois was one of only two states whose Secretary of State was also the State Librarian. Noting the work of Edgar as Illinois State Librarian, several other states moved to include the same designation for their Secretaries of State.814

A promotional display for Secretary of State Jim Edgar’s “Read Illinois” effort at the Lincoln Trail Libraries System.

A promotional display for Secretary of State Jim Edgar’s “Read Illinois” effort at the Lincoln Trail Libraries System.

One of the first programs initiated by Edgar was “Read Illinois,” a 1981 plan to promote the work of Illinois authors as well as the state’s literary heritage. Sponsored by the State Library and funded with a grant from the Illinois Humanities Council, the comprehensive effort included statewide conferences to promote Illinois authors. During National Library Week in the spring of 1982, there was widespread distribution of Illinois author reading lists, a “literary map” that pinpointed the hometowns of Illinois authors and their works, and a “Best of Illinois” collection of the top titles ever written by Illinois authors. In addition, bookmarks promoting Read Illinois, with a reproduced photo of Abraham Lincoln reading to his son, Tad, were circulated statewide. Although the list of acclaimed Illinois writers included such names as Ernest Hemingway, Studs Terkel, Upton Sinclair, Thornton Wilder, Edna Ferber, Saul Bellow, and Ray Bradbury, few Illinois residents were aware of the literary impact of their state. As Edgar explained, the purpose of Read Illinois was “to promote an extremely valuable natural resource of our state, one that seldom gets adequate recognition.”815

Construction in progress at the new Illinois State Library building.

Construction in progress at the new Illinois State Library building.

The Read Illinois program proved so successful that Edgar and the State Library continued it throughout the early 1980s. A related event was the Illinois Literary Heritage Conference in Springfield in November 1983, which increased general awareness of trends and studies relating to Illinois literature. Nearly 150 people attended the conference, which helped spark additional research to locate resources and compile bibliographies and essays on the state’s authors. The success of the 1983 conference made the Literary Heritage Conferences into an annual event. Regional gatherings were held throughout Illinois as well.816

Also in November 1983, the State Library, in conjunction with the Read Illinois Advisory Committee, released Illinois Authors, a 228-page compilation of biographical and bibliographical information on hundreds of Illinois writers. To qualify for inclusion, authors had to have been born in or a legal resident of Illinois at some point, have their works published, and be considered authors rather than editors, compilers, or illustrators. Within a decade, the State Library would again pay tribute to the authors of the state, only this time, heated controversy would follow.817

In 1985, the Illinois Center for the Book was established at the State Library. An affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, the Illinois Center strove to a mission of “nurturing and connecting readers and writers” as well as honoring the state’s literary heritage. The Illinois Center for the Book maintained a database of Illinois authors and their works and sponsored periodic events spotlighting the literary impact of those authors.818

Edgar himself was a frequent patron of the State Library. Throughout his tenure as Secretary of State, he maintained a sizable collection of books on Illinois history in his office. The books were all checked out of the State Library. Periodically, State Library staffers would carry additional selections to the Secretary’s office and care for the books already in the collection. Jim and Brenda Edgar often took State Library books home for their own reading pleasure as well.819