Public Library Development

The State Library continued to promote public library development as the 1970s drew to a close. In 1979, it helped libraries convert to the updated form of cataloging rules in the second edition of the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules. The Illinois Library Association received federal funds for a series of workshops to promote the new cataloging rules and their value in reference work and information retrieval. The workshops were planned for three groups: administrators and trustees, library personnel, and media catalogers. Twenty-eight workshops on the new rules were held in 1980.787

The State Library and the ILA also co-sponsored the landmark Illinois White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services, held in Springfield Nov. 12-14, 1978. The Illinois conference became a planning session for the state’s national participation in the 1979 White House Conference on Libraries and Information Services, which sought to identify ways to improve library service for Americans.788

Federal funding partially supported the Illinois conference, which had the following goals:

  • Identify current and future needs of Illinoisans for library services.
  • Consider the roles of libraries in relation to those needs.
  • Build “broad public understanding and support” for basic library services.
  • Formulate a basic plan to “promote continuing awareness of needs and support of resources to meet them.”789

In preparation for the Illinois conference, a series of 17 regional meetings were held statewide in 1978. The library systems hosted the subconference meetings, with a total attendance of 1,805. The majority of the participants were not librarians. The meetings produced 1,039 ideas for library service improvement in Illinois and generated much interest and anticipation for the Illinois conference.790

A total of 364 delegates attended the state conference, which was a highly active affair. The event was described as “a period of intense human interaction” that involved nearly every delegate. A 1979 conference report noted that “almost no time was spent listening to speakers, and, after the single brief speech, delegates were quick to leave the dining room and get back to their evening discussion groups.” The discussions were highly involved. When the baby of one delegate made “disturbing cooing noises,” participants asked that it be “dispatched from the room.” Indeed, delegates spent nearly every waking minute in spirited discussion, and “many delegates seemed reluctant to take time out for sleeping.”791

A list of 24 library needs were identified, with services to special-needs users given the highest priority. Second was a call for increased public library funding through tax support or “alternate methods,” followed by a plea for “more efficient” library services. These included flexible hours, community outreach, and volunteer delivery of materials to the disabled and shutins. Enhanced school media programs and effective utilization of technology, universal library cards and union lists, increased public awareness, unbiased selection of materials, and better children’s services were also stressed. Many of these priorities had been promoted by the Illinois State Library throughout the decade, another indication of the library’s influence on the direction of librarianship statewide. One delegate later described the Illinois conference as “a fourstar smash…an exhilarating and productive three days.”792

Nineteen delegates and eight alternates were chosen to represent Illinois at the national White House Conference in Washington in November 1979. The Washington conference was significant in American library development in the era, and Illinois had again established itself as a leader in public library development.793

At the end of the 1960s, the State Library was still engaging in direct lending, promoting adult education, and maintaining large collections. Technology had made only limited progress. In less than a decade, the State Library moved from primarily a lending library to an administrative institution. Its collections had been massively weeded, old programs dropped, and technology made an integral part of library operations statewide.

In a speech at DePaul University in June 1981, Mary Root of the River Bend Library System summarized the national respect that Illinois libraries had attained. She also charged her colleagues to build on their success, with the cooperation that Trezza and Gesterfield had urged.

“We have strengths in our network, our state, that are found nowhere else. With this kind of reputation, we should not rest in a glow of self-satisfaction. We must continue to work together to maximize our strengths and minimize our differences and weaknesses to be the model that the rest of the country sees, and has come to expect.”794

Indeed, the decade of the 1970s had been a time of great transition. As the 1980s approached, the Illinois State Library staff and administration looked to the maturity of library systems and the automation issues that were at the forefront of American librarianship.