Library Extension and Cooperative Efforts

But extension of public library service remained at the heart of the library’s plans. The Library Services Act was expressly created for that purpose, and the State Library continued to allocate the federal funds to promising projects. One of these avenues was increased research projects, which had begun with Library Services Act funds in 1957. The earliest such projects were performed by Mary Lee Bundy of the Graduate School of Library Science at the University of Illinois, who later became a State Library research consultant. The first research project was An Analysis of Voter Reaction to a Proposal to Form A Library District in LaSalle and Bureau Counties, Illinois, 1959, which analyzed the failed attempt to form a public library district in that area. The second was titled “What Farmers Think of Libraries” and was reprinted in the November 1960 edition of Illinois Libraries.508

This lengthy survey examined the attitudes of Illinois farmers to the State Library and to extensions of public library service. While most farmers were satisfied with the services of the State Library, and some regularly received books from the library, many did not have an awareness or understanding of what a public library could mean to them. Literacy, or lack thereof, was not a significant problem; many farmers were well-read and informed of current events. Reading was given as a primary leisure activity for many of the farm families. Likewise, many farmers wanted to see more books that directly related to their daily lives, with topics on agriculture, agribusiness, and other farm-related topics. But few recognized a library as essential to their daily needs. Many thought libraries were geared more for women and children and had little concern for the convenience of the male head of household. Nearly half the respondents expressed disinterest in bookmobiles, which were formerly popular with residents in unserved areas. Disdain for increased taxation and poor promotion was cited as a main reason for lack of interest in libraries. In all, the study concluded that, “library development in Illinois faces relative disinterest.”509

Still, there were comparatively high numbers of farm families – over 10 percent – who were willing to back tax-supported libraries, a high percentage for any project of public improvement. Nearly half were willing to “consider the possibility that libraries could be of service to them,” and, fortunately, most farm families were not active library opponents. The fact that so many farm families sought reading material gave increased cause for optimism. Bundy recommended better efforts to tailor library service specifically to farm needs and interests. This included moves to “plan services and materials around the dominant interests of rural people” and improved efforts to inform farm residents of materials that were already available to meet those needs. As Bundy wrote, “the public library may expect to win recognition and support when it meets important needs of people and as it becomes integrated with its community.”510

The farm study reflected an important change in thinking for the State Library. For many years, critics had complained that the library was too bureaucratic and haughty in tone to those it served, but now the library was taking steps to better understand the needs of Illinoisans. That understanding was crucial to adequate service to unserved state residents. The problem was hardly small, with 1.3 million Illinoisans still without free reading. And, the State Library determined that over 93 percent of the nearly 7.4 million state residents receiving public library service were receiving “inadequate service” based on a heightened standard of $3 per capita tax support.511

The Library Services Act ultimately proved a useful tool in public library expansion. While some projects failed, others met with phenomenal success. One was the film cooperative project of the Audio-Visual Committee of the ILA, which in the fall of 1957 sent a questionnaire to all public libraries in the state to determine the usage of various audio-visual products. The study found that libraries were greatly interested in obtaining 16-mm educational films but did not have the resources to buy films or maintain a film service. In yet another instance of their warming relationship, the committee and the State Library developed a film cooperative grant program in 1958. Any group of at least five public libraries could form a film cooperative based on guidelines set by the Audio-Visual Committee. The cooperatives could then petition the committee for a State Library grant not to exceed $5,000 if they matched half the requested grant. The total amount of funds could then be spent on films, related expenses including equipment and insurance, or the salary of a film librarian.512

When the program began, there was only one such film cooperative in the state, the Quad City-Scott County Libraries Film Cooperative, established in 1955 with headquarters at the Moline Public Library. That effort quickly proved successful. By 1961, a total of 4,075 film showings were being enjoyed by 270,280 viewers. The Quad City-Scott County project proved a model for others to follow. In the fall of 1958, the Illinois Valley Film Cooperative, centered at the Peoria Public Library, opened service to 11 area public libraries. Expenses were passed on to the borrower in the form of handling costs, which were meshed into a “coupon-free structure.” Films ranged from 400 feet to 2,000 feet, with a coupon fee ranging from 50 cents to $2.50. On Jan. 1, 1959, the Northern Illinois Film Cooperative began with 13 Chicago-area libraries, headquartered at the Oak Park Public Library. A matching grant of $2,500 was provided by a gift from the Oak Park-River Forest Art Fair. The largest of the cooperatives, this project held a total of 105 films. That cooperative’s most popular films in 1961 were Disneyland, Albert Schweitzer, Johnny Appleseed, Hawaii, Man in Space, Little Gray Neck, Steadfast Tin Soldier, and Ti-Jean Goes Lumbering.513

In July 1959, the Rock River Valley Film Cooperative, a collection of five northern Illinois libraries with headquarters at the Rockford Public Library, opened for service. In their first year, 154,684 viewers watched a total of 3,344 circulations. 1960 saw the establishment of the Western Illinois Film Cooperative, funded by the Library Services Act and centered at the Warren County Library in Monmouth, while the Mississippi Valley Film Cooperative was established in 1961 with headquarters at the Quincy Public Library. This venture included three Illinois libraries as well as libraries in Hannibal, Missouri, and two in Iowa, at Fort Madison and Burlington.514

Crossing of state lines for interstate library cooperation arose from a 1961 change in Illinois laws allowing libraries of the state to cooperate with those in neighboring states for enhanced rural library service. In 1964, Iowa passed a similar law, leading to the Interstate Library Compact, which took effect on January 1, 1965, the first interstate library cooperative project in the nation. After being largely ignored by the General Assembly for decades, various pieces of library legislation now frequently appeared on the floors of both chambers, with 16 separate pieces of library legislation appearing during the 1959-60 General Assembly alone.515

Another audio-visual project, the Communications Research in Rural Library Problems Project, was an experiment spearheaded in 1960-61 by the Graduate School of Library Science at the University of Illinois. With Library Services Act funds, the project produced a series of radio book talks, 15 minutes in length, airing on radio stations across the state. The project also produced commercials for National Library Week and addressed training on library subjects with filmstrips such as “How to Mend a Book” and “What Reference Tools to Use.”516

Adult education, long a staple of the State Library’s extension efforts, received a boost on Sept. 1, 1959, when the library established an adult education consultant service headquartered at the Oak Park Public Library. The service was designed to assist libraries interested in enhancing their existing adult education services as well as beginning others. It also provided assistance in the development of knowledge, skills, and interest in adult education both for librarians and the residents they served. The Library Administrators Conference of Northern Illinois (LACONI) was invited to cooperate in this program, another example of the warming relations between the State Library and larger metropolitan libraries. Workshops on adult education in libraries, selecting books for adults, and a planning institute were among the programs sponsored by that effort.517

Adult reading courses continued in popularity, with over 150 such courses offered. The library published a promotional brochure titled “Keys to Knowledge” that was distributed statewide. As in the past, prisoners were among the most enthusiastic enrollees, with over 70 percent of reading course participants incarcerated in 1965. An article on reading courses in the January 1960 issue of Illinois Libraries shared an exchange between State Library Readers’ Adviser Grace Murray and one such pupil.518

Only recently a young…man stepped to the desk at the Illinois State Library, saying, “Is this Miss Murray?”

I said, “Yes.”

“I am Howard Schilling (fictitious),” said he.

Luckily, I recognized the name immediately. I said, “Oh, Howard Schilling from Menard Penitentiary.”

He said, “Yes,” but no smile.

“Are you in Springfield for a while now?”

“Yes.”

I registered him for another reading course. We were so glad he had the courage to come to call and enroll in another course. May he have Godspeed.519

Secretary of State Charles Carpentier, left, and Assistant State Librarian de Lafayette Reid in front of a State Library bookmobile.

Secretary of State Charles Carpentier, left, and Assistant State Librarian de Lafayette Reid in front of a State Library bookmobile.

In addition to adult education, bookmobiles, long a staple of State Library extension, remained in the picture. Under de Lafayette Reid’s policy, communities without libraries received as much bookmobile service as possible. Reid saw the bookmobiles as a way to increase circulation, believing that “books needed to get off the shelves and into the people’s hands.” Of all of his accomplishments, Reid was most proud of his work with bookmobiles, which also had personal meaning to his family. Reid’s son, de Lafayette III, fondly recalled that whenever the Gerstenslager Company, a national leader in bookmobile production, was ready to deliver a new bookmobile to Illinois, the company would fly members of the Reid family to their plant in Wooster, Ohio. From there, the senior Reid would drive the bookmobile back to Illinois. On one occasion, the Reid family drove to an American Library Association conference in San Francisco and back in a Gerstenslager bookmobile.520