Developing Goals for OCLC and CLSI

Adoption of OCLC and CLSI clearly advanced the important goal of multitype cooperation. All types of Illinois libraries now had easy access to each other’s catalogs through OCLC and a fast method of interlibrary circulation with CLSI. Computers now linked each system, and transactions could be made in mere seconds. Less than a decade after its inception, ILLINET featured well-developed and well-funded systems, the latest technology, and a cooperative spirit among its members. As a result, Illinois residents had unprecedented access to the resources of libraries across the state. The 1970s were a time of great energy at the State Library. Longtime employees recall the excitement that accompanied the development of the systems and the automation that followed. The excitement was also felt in systems headquarters. In December 1977, Robert Snyders, Adult Services coordinator of the Kaskaskia Library System, cheerfully noted the hard work and accomplishments of his staff with a reference to the current national gasoline shortage. Snyders wrote, “Energy crisis? Not in the Adult Services Department!”783

ILLINET was also embraced by many outside the library community. In 1978, James Furman, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, wrote that library resource sharing was key to growth of the state’s educational system. One example was the old interlibrary sharing system, which he labeled as “rudimentary and cumbersome to the library user.” OCLC and CLSI were meant to correct this problem, which no doubt pleased Furman, who asserted that, “we could do much more in terms of sharing of existing resources.” Two years earlier Bridget Lamont, the State Library’s consultant for Services to Children and Young Adults, had also praised the network’s great importance to young library users and those who served them, especially in school media centers.784

Although ILLINET was clearly the wave of the future for Illinois libraries, the State Library sometimes struggled to define its place in the ILLINET system. A spring 1977 roundtable including seven State Library consultants and branch heads resulted in a “frank” discussion on the subject. The transcribed discussion appeared in the June 1977 issue of Illinois Libraries, and revealed some disagreement and a lack of complete understanding about implementation and governance of ILLINET, OCLC, and other key State Library programs. Participants admitted that there was “no definition anywhere, no real guideline” for the State Library’s dual role in state government and as a Reference and Research Center. There were also no clear guidelines for who specifically governed ILLINET or how it was to be done. While participants believed that technology was beneficial, they also feared future problems caused by increased automation. When asked about the “ultimate dream” for ILLINET, participant Albert Halcli candidly responded, “the sad thing is that there is no ultimate dream…At this point, I think it’s hazy.”785

However, funding for libraries was becoming less hazy. By the 1970s, the State Library and Illinois public libraries were being funded at levels never before seen. In 1976, per capita system grants rose from 70 cents to $1, and area grants jumped from $25 to $35 per square mile. The following year, the equalization base for underfunded libraries rose to $4.25, making more libraries eligible for increased aid. Direct state aid to all public libraries, long a hotly contested issue, was put in place in 1977, when the Illinois Legislature approved the first direct per capita grants to public libraries. Although $1 per capita was authorized, the figure had dropped to 27 cents when the money became available to libraries in 1979. The original $1 level was finally reached in 1986 when annual appropriations approached $10 million, proving to be a boon to Illinois libraries. The State Library also enjoyed consistent funding during those years, even though its book budget was dramatically reduced in 1978, reflecting the change from maintaining a book collection accessible by all Illinoisans.786

The transcription of the roundtable discussion made it clear that the State Library was unsure of its role in ILLINET – a troubling thought in view of the library’s assumed leadership role. Still, while the nuts and bolts of ILLINET and OCLC remained “hazy,” both programs were making a positive impact on library service to Illinois residents. And that impact would only grow with time.