Growing National Leadership

The national influence of the State Library was reflected when it gained direct access to the Library of Congress on April 1, 1991. As a result, the State Library had access to the 85 million items available at the Library of Congress through LC Direct, an electronic database that linked the State Library to the national library’s online catalog. The State Library also gained access to additional databases, including specialized materials for copyright specialists as well as visually impaired and disabled users. Illinois was unique in having the only state library with direct access to the Library of Congress. In December 1992, the State Library was designated a Literacy Resource Center, an important national designation that established the library as a “hub” for literacy and adult education efforts statewide.905

Illinois was also at the forefront of the July 1991 White House Conference on Library and Information Services. As with the previous White House conference 12 years earlier, Illinois’ participation was met with great enthusiasm. Over 1,000 librarians, trustees, representatives, and “interested citizens” attended the Illinois White House conference in Chicago in April 1990. The ultimate goal was to “develop an Illinois library and information agenda,” with literacy also a leading discussion topic. Illinois was the first state to hold its conference, and the event became a showcase for the leadership of Illinois libraries. Attention was given to accommodations for the disabled, hearing impaired, and visually impaired, earning Illinois much praise. The American Library Association, impressed with Illinois’ emphasis on special-needs participants, planned to implement some of the same efforts at the national ALA convention that year. Lamont reported that the State Library received calls every day for weeks afterward from participants requesting transcripts or videos of the conference, as well as advice on organizing the event.906

An aerial view of the Illinois State Library building in the early 1990s.

An aerial view of the Illinois State Library building in the early 1990s.

The State Library also continued to develop one of its newest services. In 1984, the library was designated a Patent Depository Library (PDL) by the Patent and Trademark Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Illinois was one of only three state libraries to earn the designation, and became the only PDL between Chicago and St. Louis. The library’s previous designation as a regional federal government document depository was the impetus for the move. Secretary of State Edgar also noted that the PDL designation allowed the library to “expand upon its role as a reference library for state government” as well as the “business, scientific, industrial, and academic communities.” Starting in 1987, the State Library purchased the entire backfile of U.S. patent documents, an archive that spanned from 1790 to 1983. In doing so, the library became the only PDL to acquire the entire backfile in less than two years. In 1985, the State Library began sponsoring an annual Patent Depository Workshop to promote the importance and understanding of patents.907

In addition, the State Library continued to position itself at the forefront of library technology. The automated cataloging and circulation systems of the 1970s and 1980s were now giving way to even more advanced technologies. State Library staff realized that smaller public and school libraries should have the same technological access as the largest libraries. One example was facsimile transmissions – better known as FAXes – that revolutionized communications. FAX usage in Illinois began with a one-year Library Services and Construction Act grant in 1983 and grew rapidly. By the end of the decade, Illinois had more libraries using FAX machines than any other state. Over 850,000 pages were transmitted by FAX among the 458 libraries with such technology. As a result, resource sharing was both strengthened and accelerated. In early 1990, Secretary Edgar announced that $180,000 in grants would be awarded to aid 168 libraries in the purchase of FAX machines.908

In 1993, Illinois libraries adopted a new technology with little fanfare. The Great River, Corn Belt, Illinois Valley, and Western Illinois systems received a $50,000 grant to introduce “a universal information network,” which was “known as Internet.” Now, the smallest public libraries would have access to the same resources as major universities. Several articles appeared in Illinois Libraries over the next few years, discussing the key components of the World Wide Web. Illinois library service for librarians and their patrons would never be the same.909

A view of the State Library’s vaulted ceiling and ornate lighting fixtures from the fifth-floor walkway.

A view of the State Library’s vaulted ceiling and ornate lighting fixtures from the fifth-floor walkway.