The Expansion of ILLINET

In addition to automation, the dominant issue at the State Library in the 1970s was further development of the library systems and their cooperation in a multitype library network. In 1975, the Illinois Library Network became the Illinois Library and Information Network, or ILLINET, which quickly became the symbol for cooperation among Illinois libraries.770

By the end of the decade, libraries of all types had joined ILLINET. Academic, special, and school libraries now made up a substantial, and valuable, portion of network members. As of 1975, all but 11 of the 555 Illinois public libraries were members of a system. ILLINET was arranged in a hierarchy of four levels. At the first level were the local libraries – public, academic, school, and special institutions. Next were the 18 systems, each responsible for a specific geographic area, and some featuring specialized collections accessible statewide. The cooperative collection development policies led to this successful and wellrespected method. At the third level were the four Reference and Research Centers. The fourth and newest level was for Special Resource Centers, added as a “last resort” to reference issues that could not be handled at lower levels. The first Special Resource Center, Chicago’s John Crerar Library, was added in 1974 to take advantage of that facility’s holdings in science, technology, and medicine. In 1975, the University of Chicago library and the Northwestern University library were also designated as Special Resource Centers.771

ILLINET opened up myriad resources to the Illinois library user. Patrons now had access to over 21.3 million volumes through interlibrary loan of materials from participating libraries. The first 10 pages of requested magazine articles could be copied free of charge (with the State Library copying up to 25 pages at no cost). Special indexes could be verified and searched, and specialists at the Reference and Research Centers were available to handle issues that the local and systems levels could not. With burgeoning automated services such as OCLC and CLSI, library service in Illinois was not only expansive, it was quick and easy.772

Although some libraries continued to struggle with implementation of OCLC, drawbacks were offset by a huge increase in patron satisfaction. A 1984 study of interlibrary loan service showed “the slowest time for an online request was fewer days than the fastest time for a paper request.” But the same study showed little difference in staff time with OCLC, as many library directors reported that the online system required more staff time than the paper system. Part of this increase was due to the flood of interlibrary loan requests that resulted from the introduction of OCLC. Patrons indeed loved the change, as they enjoyed increased speed of requests, access to millions more resources, and excitement that their “material would ‘be what they wanted.’”773

However, ILLINET’s success depended on effective delivery of library materials. While interlibrary loan delivery speed had increased over the last decade, it was still considered too slow. Online systems like the TWX system and the burgeoning OCLC helped with requests, but physical delivery was still a problem. In 1978, the Rolling Prairie Library System received a federally funded grant to study a statewide delivery system to “meet the growing demands for fast and reliable interlibrary loans” through ILLINET. Transportation engineers helped devise a plan linking all types of libraries in a fast, cost-efficient statewide delivery system.774

The report, completed in 1980, resulted in the new Intersystems Library Delivery Service (ILDS) between the State Library and the University of Illinois, with the State Library once more promoting and funding system development. By 1982, most materials were delivered from system to system within 48 hours of the time of the initial request. A report that same year noted that the reliability of the delivery system had “facilitated interlibrary loans and strengthened the effectiveness” of ILLINET.775

The systems were able to handle the overwhelming majority of the reference requests generated through ILLINET. In 1983, the State Library reported that 92.3 percent of information requests were filled at the systems level. Of the requests forwarded to higher levels, many went to the State Library. From 1972 to 1982, 62 percent of requests sent on to the Reference and Research Centers were handled by the State Library. Effective reference work was truly a team effort at all levels. The State Library labeled five factors as key to the success of the reference network:

  • A good reference interview at the local library.
  • Exhaustion of local resources before forwarding the request to higher levels.
  • Thorough reference work at each level.
  • Effective turnaround time.
  • Documentation at each search level to prevent duplication of effort at the next level.776