The Issue of Preservation

The mid-1980s also marked a return to the construction boom of library buildings in Illinois. In 1974, funding for Title II of the Library Services and Construction Act, which provided for new library construction, had been suspended. Nine years later, the construction grants were re-established when the federal Emergency Jobs Bill, designed to send funds to areas of high unemployment, opened up money for library construction once again. As a result, nearly $2.9 million in federal funds flowed into Illinois, and new library construction sprang up in many communities across the state.859

But the State Library did not immediately reap the benefits of this boom. By the mid-1980s, it was clear that the library could not last much longer in the Centennial Building. Service, although still solid, was becoming increasingly strained by the lack of space. It was also difficult to hire new staff, since there was little place to put them. Added in-house storage was not an option, as the Centennial Building was unable to bear any more weight. Humidity and temperature controls were also failing. In the winter, excessive heat drained the humidity from the stacks, while an inadequate air conditioning system offered no relief to the collection in summer. As a result, many books were rapidly deteriorating, suffering from loose hinges, sliding covers, and yellowed and brittle pages.860

One State Library administrator took extreme measures. Sherwood Kirk, a longtime top assistant to Al Trezza, was so horrified about the conditions of the books in the stacks (and the odors that permeated the area) that, without consulting Trezza or any Secretary of State personnel, contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This secretive move by Kirk, a well-respected staffer, left the library and the Secretary’s office up in arms. But Kirk’s actions, however justified, did little to alleviate the problem.861

With the situation so dire, there was little that library personnel could do to preserve books. In 1969, the library had begun a binding program to help preserve books. In 1973, 14,546 books were bound by a factory in Jacksonville. That same year, the library bound 3,727 pamphlets with its own equipment. Some holdings were microfilmed or microfiched to help with space, but everyone realized that such measures were merely band-aid remedies. In some areas, stacks of books, documents, and films had to be moved simply to get to other holdings, then moved back to make room for aisles.862

Conservation and preservation of library materials was a key issue among the state’s leading libraries in the 1980s. In 1981, an Illinois Cooperative Conservation Program (ICCP) was established at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and annually funded with LSCA monies. The ICCP offered workshops, publications, and treatment services to help libraries preserve fragile books and materials. At the State Library, the  increasingly urgent need for conservation was a major reason for a proposed new building. But the State Library was not alone in seeking a new building. Elsewhere in Springfield, there was talk of a library honoring Abraham Lincoln, and the Illinois State Historical Library was seeking new quarters to replace their now-outdated facility underneath the Old State Capitol.863

Preservation was a key topic in all these discussions. In August 1985, the State Library seized the initiative and created a task force to “address the conservation and preservation of library materials.” A 17-person panel, chaired by Southern Illinois University-Carbondale dean Kenneth Peterson, was charged with creating a five-year plan for preservation in Illinois libraries. In addition to the State Library and the ICCP, the National Preservation Program of the Library of Congress assisted the task force.864

The task force presented its report to Bridget Lamont in April 1986. Although Illinois was “unusually rich in the quality and quantity of its library and archival resources,” those holdings were suffering from “chemical instability” that led to yellow and brittle pages. Even top facilities such as Northwestern University were not immune; over 30 percent of its collections were so brittle that further use would be destructive. Because 93 percent of its collections were on paper, it was a problem of far-reaching implications. Elsewhere, films, recordings, and other materials were fading and losing sound quality. All this was “greatly exacerbated by poor storage  environments,” with most Illinois libraries having poor humidity, light, and temperature controls.865

The task force recommended greater public awareness, consulting, and training service through the library systems, and identification of materials in need of treatment. Treatment centers were to be created, including consideration of a de-acidification facility. The report also recommended that the State Library should be the “responsible agency for promoting a cooperative preservation program” and that a preservation office be established at the State Library. The recommendations were heeded, and in May 1987, the State Library hired a preservation officer, Cheryl Pence, followed by the opening of an Office of Preservation that July 1. The office served as a lead agency for conservation matters around the state for the next several years, and the library also briefly published a bulletin on the topic.866