Chapter 16 – A New Era for the State Library — The 1990s and 2000s

As the Illinois State Library entered the 1990s in its new home, it confronted the increasingly diverse needs of Illinois library users. Any long-range plans of the State Library had to consider Illinoisans less as a single  population and more as a collection of special interests. In January 1991, the State Library noted that Illinois’ “diverse concentrations of population make it difficult for uniform public library service.”899

It was not a new challenge. Since the late 1960s, the State Library had reached out to the visually impaired and physically disabled population, who were avid library users. In 1993, the library reported that circulation of materials for these patrons had increased by over 30,000, to more than 895,000. The average number of books read annually by such patrons was 36.3. The State Library also held a Kurzweil machine, a blind-reading aid that scanned typeset or typewritten material for conversion into synthetic speech. In the coming years, the State Library would steadily upgrade its aid to visually impaired readers.900

Federal legislation also helped improve library access to the disabled. With passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, new library construction was required to include access for disabled patrons. As a result, all libraries had to remove physical barriers by Jan. 26, 1992, if removal was “readily achievable.” If not “readily achievable,” libraries were then required to make services available through other means, such as retrieval of materials from inaccessible shelves or through outreach services. Articles in the fall 1993 and winter 1996 editions of Illinois Libraries provided information to help libraries comply with the ADA.901

In addition, State Library policies began to target the culturally diverse. Some 14.8 percent of the state’s population was African-American, over 900,000 were Hispanic and nearly 300,000 were Asian. Over 1.4 million Illinoisans had no more than an eighth-grade education. Of Illinois’ 11 million residents who were age 5 or over, 9.3 million spoke English. Over 635,000 residents spoke Spanish, nearly a quarter of whom were not fluent in English. Another 625,000 spoke a language other than Spanish or English, and around 15 percent of that group lacked fluency in English. The population was also aging. By 1991, over 1.25 million Illinois residents of the state were seniors, an increase of 15.8 percent since 1970. In addition, social issues, such as drug use and lack of child care, were beginning to permeate library needs.902

Illinois was not alone in this need for diversity in library service. Over the years, the Library Services and Construction Act had been amended to meet the needs of diverse populations, such as the disabled, older library users, and the institutionalized. By 1990, 18 criteria to address varying library needs were part of LSCA Title I. Now, in addition to traditional needs as the unserved, underserved, and culturally and physically disadvantaged, there were provisions for those with limited English-speaking ability, the illiterate, the disabled other than physically, and drug abuse prevention. Children in child-care facilities were also targeted, as were programs with intergenerational ties.903

State Library Director Bridget Lamont applauded the expansion, stating that “in Illinois many of these topics have already been supported through previous LSCA grants, but now some special emphasis can be given them.” Lamont further noted that the “additions in the areas of youth and drug abuse” were of “special importance.”904