Improvements and Progress

In May 1956, yet another major survey was conducted at the State Library. This time, the extension activities of the library were analyzed in an effort jointly sponsored by the library and the Illinois Library Association. After several years of frosty relations, the State Library and the ILA developed a much closer relationship during the mid- to late-1950s, as they cooperated on the same goals. The 1956 survey was one example of this cooperation, and it may be inferred that de Lafayette Reid was at least partially responsible for the thaw.449

This survey, conducted by Gretchen Knief Schenk of Summerdale, Alabama, provided a 21-page report on working conditions and professional opinions of the library. The library and the Illinois Library Association each contributed $500 to pay for the effort. While the library staff “willingly and cheerfully answered any and all questions,” the beleaguered staff was hardly welcoming of yet another survey. One staffer remarked to the surveyor that “we are surfeited with surveys, inspections, calibrations, questionnaires, and all such formalities without anything much being done about it.” As a result, the employee concluded, “I am afraid we are even sicker than I realized.”450

However, the findings of the survey were much rosier than the comprehensive 1951 report. The 1956 effort reported, “the Illinois State Library is richer in library materials of all kinds than most state libraries in the nation. These include not only rare and unusual items, but books, records, pictures, films, charts, and the like.” This statement may be attributed to the exponential growth the library enjoyed throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s and indicates that, after years of lagging, the Illinois State Library had finally caught up with, and even surpassed, other state libraries. The survey also noted the ease with which the rich holdings could be borrowed, reporting that, in interviews with “librarians and citizens…the excellent service and great generosity of the [Illinois] State Library in supplying materials was emphasized repeatedly.”451

Ironically, that “excellent service” came as a result of the “experience gained during the demonstration period” of 1945-51. The modified bookmobile program, a remnant of the demonstration project, was also lauded. Noting the success of public libraries using bookmobiles borrowed from the state, the survey recommended “bookmobile equipment be continued and kept up-to-date, so that other communities may experience…growth in library services.” But the “inadequate advance planning” that doomed the demonstration program was repeatedly noted in the survey. A warning was given that similar poor planning would threaten other State Library activities, such
as the regional service centers – a prediction that proved accurate.452

Service from the State Library was found to be so effective that extension services were actually being hampered, according to the survey. School libraries, for example, interfered with state responsibility for providing suitable libraries because of the State Library’s willingness to supply school materials. This was true “especially in rural areas, [which] still leaned too heavily on the State Library to supply what local or county school districts should be furnishing.” While the State Library had in the past been criticized for poor relations with professional bodies, now the “friendly, cooperative spirit…between the Supervisor of School Libraries in the State Department of Education and the State Library staff” was commended and explained why the State Library shouldered the load.453

Despite the 112,262 packages of materials mailed to schools in 1954-55, the survey made a bold recommendation that the State Library “cease and desist from sending general reading matter to schools.” The survey noted the example of California, where its state library “had never supplied children’s books of any kind, so that the school and public library service has been forced to develop in order to care for school needs.” The surveyor believed that by cutting off shipments to schools, local school districts would be forced to develop school libraries on their own. The Illinois State Library realized that this recommendation was valid, but elected to continue serving schools “until a definite plan of withdrawal [is] formulated” and its “primary function of supplementing local public libraries” could be emphasized.454

The State Library was less effective in other areas. District library laws, long a staple of the library’s extension efforts, were also called into question. This stemmed partly from the requirements for appointment and representation of elected officials. One “stipulation” required the chairman of the board of county commissioners of the county with all, or the largest part, of any proposed district to be a member of the district library board. The survey condemned this requirement as “political expediency” and urged that Illinois remain “happily free of the many ex-officio library board members found in other states.” Continued appointment of district library trustees by county governments was also recommended. This was due to concerns that trustee elections would take on too much of a political tone and not fully represent the local needs of a district library. The 1919 county library law was deemed “obsolete and [required] revision badly,” yet another blow to the State Library’s continued efforts to promote district or county libraries.455

While the survey was generally complimentary of the relations of the State Library with Illinois public libraries, it found a need for closer contact with libraries at the northern and southern ends of the state. “If the State Library is to be the hub of the state’s inter-library loan system,” wrote the surveyor, “a much closer liaison” was needed. The surveyor recommended a teletype system, similar to one used by the Michigan State Library, to connect with the “major libraries of the state…for bibliographic and inter-library loan purposes.” The survey also reported that “no definite policies for developing the library’s collection in cooperation with other libraries in the state” were in place. This was due to past problems – the “mutual distrust and lack of harmony” among the library leaders of the state – that had since improved. Now with “evident good will on the part of the both State Library staff members and library leaders in the state,” the survey called for “definite policies” to bring the State Library’s collection into better harmony with the needs of the public libraries it served.456

Interestingly, the survey also called for “a policymaking State Library Board” similar to the one proposed in 1947 by the Illinois Library Association. Again, this would consist of five members, with no more than three from one political party, “a librarian in active service” as well as a “library trustee in active service and three citizens at large.” With such a board in place, there would be no need for the Advisory Committee. The proposed board was to have nearly total control over the activities of the State Library. The survey also recommended that the Secretary of State “have suitable legislation prepared and presented at the next Legislature to divest himself” of the title of State Librarian. The latter recommendation apparently had the support of current Secretary of State Charles Carpentier, who had “long recognized the need” to relieve himself of the title.457

Ongoing needs such as improved salary structure were also addressed, as State Library staff salaries were considerably less than other major libraries. The “gross inadequacies” of the Centennial Building were also noted, and better quarters were strongly recommended. The survey was not particularly well received by library staff. In the 1956 Biennial Report, de Lafayette Reid referred to the report as “controversial.” But the survey presented an overall positive picture of the library and showed the dramatic gains the library had made since the devastating survey of five years earlier.458