Implementing the Rohlf Plan

The Rohlf plan was well-conceived and well-organized and, not surprisingly, was met with great enthusiasm. The Illinois Library Association and the State Library quickly embraced the plan. A large-scale promotional effort ensued, with focus on librarians, trustees, legislators, and other people whose backing would be needed when the idea was presented to the General Assembly. The Library Development Committee of the ILA was given authority for distributing information and writing the legislation. A five-member subcommittee was appointed to oversee the activity. The chair of the Development Committee was Alphonse Trezza, who also served as Associate Executive Director of the American Library Association. His name would become very familiar to Illinois librarians in the near future.590

A thorough explanation of the new systems to a library community not used to such an idea proved somewhat of a challenge. The plan seemed complicated, and many administrative details, though relatively minor, still had not been worked out. In all, 10 regional meetings were scheduled in a three-month span in 1964. Open discussions were held at each meeting, and participants were asked to volunteer in the legislative effort. In 1967, Associate State Librarian Donald Wright recalled, “speakers, telephoners, letter writers, and VIP contactors were all needed – and were all used.” Wright also remembered that librarians and library boards eventually supported the plan, “although after much discussion” of how the systems would work while ensuring local autonomy. Representatives, fearing legal repercussions of forced participation, stressed that joining the systems was on a volunteer basis.591

Not all questions could be answered and not all details were in place, so representatives stressed several selling points. A subsequent analysis found library service could be improved because individual libraries “could not do it alone,” and “that here finally was an opportunity for libraries to work together for a common goal.” The meetings to promote the plan were held jointly by the ILA and the State Library. Wright proudly declared that, “at no time during this process was one agency behind or beyond the other in its support of the plan and legislation. Such cooperation is imperative and vital.”592

The Development Committee and Rohlf visited numerous groups across the state that were interested in educational advancement. In some cases, Rohlf was revisiting groups he had interviewed during the original study. Endorsement for the library systems plan was sought, and Wright noted that “a real grass roots support” was building. Interviews with Governor Otto Kerner, as well as the candidates for Governor and Secretary of State, were held to discuss the plan and secure endorsements. In the fall of 1964, draft legislation was composed and taken to the Legislative Reference Bureau, where minor changes were made to help the “difficulties in translating the plan to legislation.”593

One key endorsement came from Paul Powell, who was elected Secretary of State in 1964. A 30-year member of the Illinois House, Powell proved to be an ardent supporter of the State Library and Illinois libraries during his time in office. Allen Lucas, a Springfield Democrat, was chosen to sponsor the bill in the House, and the legislation was introduced in the spring of 1965. Support for the bill was bipartisan and overwhelming. Within weeks, the Plan for the Establishment of a Network of Public Library Systems was passed by the Illinois House with only three “no” votes. On May 3, 1965, the Senate passed the bill with a single dissenting vote. Kerner signed the bill into law on Aug. 17, 1965, and the Illinois library systems plan was born.594

The first section of the law makes the state expressly responsible for financially providing improvement and development of public libraries as part of its commitment to public education. It was the first time Illinois declared its role in relation to public libraries. Most of Rohlf’s recommendations were left intact, including the provision declaring a library system as one or more public libraries serving a minimum of either 150,000 people or 4,000 square miles. With respect to Chicago, the law allowed for a system to consist of a single library serving a city of over half a million. The area grant was changed to $5 per square mile for an area of one county and $15 per square mile for an area of two or more counties.595

Creation of a system required the approval of the boards of directors of participating libraries. A board of directors for the system was then established. Each system board was to contain from five to 15 members of the boards of participating libraries. The system boards had the power to develop a plan of service, control spending, make and adopt by-laws, obtain or construct buildings, appoint or dismiss staff, enter into contracts for service with other libraries, and amend the plan of service with the consent of the State Librarian. Each library system staff was to consist of four professional librarians in conditionally approved systems, with six in fully approved systems. Public relations were to be handled by the systems, and a variety of media, including memoranda, newsletters, telephone, and face-to-face meetings, kept member librarians informed of system activities.596

The free use of resources within a system to any resident holding a library card of any participating library was expressly worded. The system book collection was to be built and located at a place providing maximum and convenient usage. The State Librarian was responsible for administering the law and working to achieve the objectives of the law, which were:

  • Provide library service for every citizen in the state by extending library facilities to areas not now served.
  • Provide library materials for student needs at every educational level.
  • Provide adequate library materials to satisfy the reference and research needs of the people of this state.
  • Provide an adequate staff of professionally trained librarians for the state.
  • Provide an adequate stock of books and other materials sufficient in size and varied in kind and subject matter to satisfy the library needs of the people of this state.
  • Provide adequate library outlets and facilities convenient in time and place to serve the people of this state.
  • Encourage existing and new libraries to develop library systems serving a sufficiently large population to support adequate library service at reasonable cost.
  • Foster the economic and efficient utilization of public funds.
  • Promote the full utilization of local pride, responsibility, initiative, and support of library service and at the same time employ state aid as a supplement to local support.597

The sum of $770,000 was appropriated for the creation and financing of the systems, with $3,063,822 for the per capita grants. A total of $510,000 went to the equalization plan, while $400,000 was appropriated for the creation of the reference centers.598

Without question, the Secretary of State as State Librarian had more responsibility than ever before. Fortunately, Paul Powell eagerly assumed his role as State Librarian, to the benefit of libraries across the state. In little more than a year after the release of the Rohlf study in early 1964, the bill was passed into law.599

Applications for system formation came quickly as well. On Nov. 24, 1965 – just over three months from the signing of the law – Chicago submitted the first application. By Feb. 24, 1966, eight more applications had been received and approved. Now, systems with such names as Chicago, Corn Belt, Illinois Valley, Lincoln Trail, Northern Illinois, Rolling Prairie, Shawnee, and Western Illinois were working to develop fullfledged operations. By June 9, the systems of DuPage, Great River, Lewis & Clark, North Suburban, River Bend, Suburban, and Starved Rock joined the fold. They would eventually be joined by the Bur Oak, Cumberland, and Kaskaskia library systems.600

Rohlf recommended 21 systems, but only 18 were formed. Each name reflected its location in Illinois, and each interpreted the laws of organization and administration in somewhat different ways. But each system had an immediate impact on library service for Illinois citizens. On Dec. 20, 1965, the first direct state financial aid payments under the equalization plan were released to the public libraries of Vienna (Secretary Powell’s hometown) and Mount Vernon. The General Assembly also ensured that money would remain available for long-term systems development. In 1967, the legislature passed House Bill 1607, a bipartisan effort again sponsored by Lucas, which appropriated more funding for long-range systems planning.601

From the seeds of the idea planted by former ILA President Phyllis Maggeroli through the landmark survey of Robert Rohlf to the landslide passage in the General Assembly, the development of library systems was the most significant accomplishment in Illinois librarianship to date. The State Library was at the forefront of change as it entered the second half of the decade, with new duties and a revised leadership role. In a June 1980 issue devoted to federal projects, Illinois Libraries reported, “the State Library had matured to the point where it accepted fully its legal and professional responsibility for leadership.”602