Increased Usage of the Library

Patrons continued to take advantage of the State Library’s many services. There had been some concern that library usage would decline with the move out of the Capitol. Skogh “feared the distance would interfere with the former ready reference value of the library.” But the decline proved minimal, and Skogh credited the slight decline in walk-in traffic to increased use “of the telephone for reference purposes.” 211

In 1926, Skogh was pleased to find that reference use of the library, rather than decreasing, had “increased considerably.” “Legislative use,” she continued, “[was] hampered by the amount of time required to make the trip” from the Capitol to the Centennial Building. She recommended some form of “rapid transit automatic delivery of requests…to overcome this handicap.” Public requests for information continued to climb. Also in 1926, she reported a total of 3,671 letters “were given attention” at the reference desk since the biennium, and a total of 6,461 reference questions “were investigated.”212

The Library Extension Division also continued to serve increasing numbers of patrons. In 1926, 6,422 volumes were added to the collection, bringing the total to 36,179. A total of 12,000 pictures also enhanced the collection, an addition that had begun in 1922. Superintendent Anna May Price described the picture collection as including “reproductions in color of every school painting representing the old masters and modern artists,” as well as “photographs of all periods and schools of architecture, sculpture [and] good examples of etchings and engravings.” “Supplementing the art,” continued Price, was “a large collection of miscellaneous subjects for use in the study of history, geography, and English.”213

The division processed a total of 25,761 requests for 125,243 volumes in 1925 and 1926, while continuing to successfully promote the establishment of public libraries in areas that did not have such facilities. Price traveled the state promoting library establishment, giving 30 to 40 “public addresses” per year. She also made over 200 “advisory visits” to libraries annually. In these appearances, she discussed “library problems with the librarians and [offered] counseling with the library directors as to improvements and progress.” The Library Extension Division sponsored regional library conferences around the state as another means of facilitating communication among librarians. In 1928, Price reported that a total of 1,271 attendees took part in 26 conferences in the previous two years.214

Although the General Library Division continued to step up its interlibrary loans, it was the work of the Extension Division that was having the most impact in the lives of everyday Illinoisans with their distribution of materials. Their efforts were substantial, and quite successful. In 1929, Price reported that 260 libraries statewide were circulating a total of 26,846,871 volumes. This worked out to an average of 3.6 volumes for every resident in the state, and 18.4 for every registered library user. In terms of “family reading,” Price calculated an average of 92 books read per family, all at an average cost in taxes and gifts of $3.55 per head of the family – “little more than the price of one novel.” But even with the yeoman work of the Extension Division, nearly 2 million Illinois residents still had no access to free reading, including 96 percent of people living on farms.215

By 1928, the General Library Division collection numbered 101,765 bound volumes and an estimated 64,663 pamphlets. A selection of 484 periodicals and 19 newspapers could be perused in the reading room, with many patrons continuing to take advantage of that service. Skogh boasted that “special attention has been given to building up the book collection on subjects of particular interest to any department of State service,” indicating the library’s continued role in serving state officials and employees. Social sciences continued to be emphasized in the general collection, especially on social, economic, and political theories, but were selected based on their value to the state and its various departments.216

Works on natural sciences were chosen only if they were “of special service to the State Museum and other scientific departments of the state,” while “useful and fine arts” were added only if such titles were useful to the work of the state. History, biography, and literature were subject to less scrutiny. However, even though the mission of the library was increasingly focused on the needs of the public, especially through the Extension Division, service to state departments was still at the forefront of collection development.217

Skogh claimed that while circulation was strong and growing, it was still “modest” in comparison to municipal and public libraries. However, she recognized that “practically no recent fiction and no children’s books” had been purchased by the library, which “limits the popular appeal of its collection.” Skogh noted that the types of books demanded for the library “have never been low priced,” and that the average price of a book purchased for the library was $3.25 per volume, “considerably above the usual average of public library books.” By comparison, Skogh’s former employer, the Moline Public Library, was spending an average of $1.46 for every new book.218

But legislative appropriations did continue providing adequate funding. The General Library Division received a two-year total of $15,500 for “books, magazines, and periodicals” in 1922, rising to $18,000 in 1928. The Library Extension Division received $7,000 annually for this purpose during most of the 1920s, increasing to $8,000 in 1928. The number of employees also jumped as well. From seven workers in the west wing in the early 1920s, the staff rose to 28 by the end of the decade.219

In 1930, Skogh reported that requests by letter had risen 24 percent and circulation was up 79 percent over the previous two years. A large percentage of the State Library circulation was in the form of interlibrary loans. Of the total circulation of 68,978, some 6,543 were loaned to the Extension Division, while 19,812 volumes went to 149 libraries, 18 colleges, 126 schools and 2,629 individuals in 627 different municipalities within Illinois. The library also proudly noted its cooperation with other state agencies, especially the Legislative Reference Bureau. Clearly, the library was striving to meet the needs of a more broadly defined base of patrons.220

But space, a perennial problem, was becoming alarmingly scarce. By 1930, Skogh found that “temporary expedients” to increase space “employed from time to time to give minor relief are practically exhausted.” Even though a second wing of the Centennial Building had just been completed, the library still had no place to grow. Poor space-needs planning of the original design was strongly felt.221

Looking eastward into the State Library in the early 1930s.

Looking eastward into the State Library in the early 1930s.

Skogh also blamed an old foe, the Illinois State Museum. Prior to completion of the Centennial Building in 1923, it was believed that the library would be allowed to expand into the fifth and sixth floors of the structure, where bookstacks would be erected. But, upon completion, that space was given to the State Museum as “a temporary measure,” which became permanent. The State Museum established its Mammal Hall exhibits on those floors, which were visited by “hundreds of thousands of Illinois citizens” each year. Skogh conceded, “it would be neither expedient nor economical” to remove these “large and fine exhibits” even if “satisfactory storage space could be found. There seems to be at this time no available exhibit space for them elsewhere.” Unfortunately, there was also a lack of available space for the library.222

Less than a decade after the move to the Centennial Building, the State Library was making a serious push for a new building. Skogh’s 1930 report recommended “the erection of another unit of the Centennial Building at the west,” which would provide additional space for the museum, the State Library, and the historical library, as well as “adequate quarters for the Archives Division.” It was a bold request, to say the least. Although Skogh’s influence was on the rise – she served as president of the National Association of State Libraries in 1930-31, for example – her recommendations were ignored.223

The Archives Division was also badly in need of better facilities, which was due partially to the lack of understanding of the needs of an archives. Margaret Cross Norton noted the poor planning of the architects of the Centennial Building, who “assumed that the storage needs [of the archives] were precisely those of a library.” They had simply assigned a level of the library bookstacks as the archives’ storeroom. But, said Norton, the archives had “comparatively few bound books,” largely consisting instead of records that required special boxes and vaults. The resulting system of storage was tenuous at best. When loaded with boxes of pamphlets, the shelves became so crowded that the aisles in between were a mere 17 inches wide.224

Even worse was the weight on the shelves. Bookstacks used by the archives that were normally designed to hold 16 pounds per lineal foot were actually holding up to 100 pounds per lineal foot. By December 1928, the state architect reported that the stacks were “dangerously overloaded and showing signs of buckling” and that “the floors of the office were threatening to give way.” Certainly, it was an alarming assessment for a building only five years old.225

Two large rooms under the auditorium of the building were subsequently converted to archives storage, but Norton argued that the new storage “was nearly a block away…on a different floor…and cannot be properly safeguarded from improper intrusion.” Norton lamented that the designs had been made “before her appointment” and also “ignored…the suggestions drawn up by a national authority on archives at the instigation of the State Historical Library.”226

Clearly, the new quarters of the library were inadequate. Skogh continued to call for more space, and in 1934 again blamed the poor planning in the building’s design. She once more called into question the “temporary” storage facilities of the State Museum and also wrote with dismay about the “assignment for office space” of the corridor just outside the library’s south wall, which boxed in the library and prevented expansion. But Skogh also noted another example of poor planning from within the library – the “uneconomical removal” of the three-story bronze bookstacks, the signature feature of the west wing location, to its new home in the Centennial Building. The “outdated” stacks, reported Skogh, “have been pronounced unsafe for added weight above, which prevented them from reaching the levels of the newer five-story bookstacks” and created “thousands of cubic feet of waste space.”227

Irritably, Skogh summed up the design of the Centennial Building as “never…estimated to meet the needs of legitimate and normal growth in the State Library for more than six to eight years.” That growth was certainly substantial. In 1933, Skogh proudly declared that “the growth in book collections during the last 18 years…more than equalled the acquisitions of the entire 73 years of the State Library’s existence prior to that time.” The demand for library services continued to increase, and the 1930s proved to be another era of redefinition for the Illinois State Library.228