Library Services Act Projects

Illinois carefully followed the requirements laid out in the act, but the State Library’s past tendencies of autocratic control were loosened considerably. Reid stressed that plans “must be adapted to the community, not to any predetermined scheme rigidly imposed.” Communication with public libraries was also much improved. Reid frequently wrote articles for Illinois Libraries to inform public librarians of what the act meant and how the money would be spent. In the spring of 1957, a series of 13 regional meetings were held to fully explain the Library Services Act, and the Illinois plan, to Illinois public librarians. The title of each meeting was “How May Your Library Receive Federal Aid?”471

The Illinois State Library plan was comprehensive in nature, yet, unlike the failed demonstration projects of the previous decade, was well organized within the boundaries of available resources. Overseeing the recipients was the new Selection Committee, which had been authorized by the Advisory Committee with the express purpose of implementing the state plan. The Selection Committee, which first met on Dec. 17, 1957, was composed of Reid, Chief of Public Services Colin Lucas, and Chief of Extension Services Laura Langston, as well as three appointees by the president of the Illinois Library Association. Two criteria were used for project selection. One was the recently published Public Library Service, while the other was “evidence which assures the probability that the library receiving funds can establish self-support after Federal-State assistance is terminated.”472

In November 1957, Illinois and six other Midwestern state library agencies met in an exhaustive conference to discuss the enhancement of library service. The commitment toward that service was clearly demonstrated in such questions as:

  • “What do we know about library needs in our state and what are we doing to learn more?”
  • “How are we building support for local and statewide programs and how can we do it faster?”473

With its renewed emphasis on cooperative efforts with other states, the State Library was establishing itself as a major force among state library agencies. Only a few years before, assistant librarians had worried that the Illinois State Library did not command proper respect. Now, the Library Services Act helped vault Illinois into a leader among state libraries nationwide.

Eventually, four unserved areas were selected for funding. The first was the Warren-Henderson County Project, a two-year demonstration of library service extension for Henderson County that began in April 1957. Although Reid had stated just a few months before that no more demonstrations would be held, this project was actually the first of 43 such demonstrations in unserved areas asking for federal funding between 1957 and 1979. While Warren County was the first municipality to establish a library under the County Library Act of 1919, neighboring Henderson County, with a population of 8,416, was completely without library service. Five stations in Henderson County were established and served by the Warren County Library and loans from the State Library, while seven towns and 21 schools in Henderson County were served by a bookmobile.474

A contract was signed between the State Library and the Warren County Library that outlined the service, while federal and state funds paid for needed materials and equipment. The contract stipulated that Henderson County would make “the necessary financial arrangements to continue the service” at the end of the demonstration period. An effective public-relations campaign, coupled with the participation of civic leaders and “concerned citizens,” ensured the success of the project. A Henderson County newspaper also provided a half-page of testimonials, photos, and editorials on the value of libraries. On April 7, 1959, by a 3-to-1 margin, the Henderson County District Library was established on a fully tax-supported basis.475

The Warren-Henderson project was one of four regional library programs that were implemented in the late 1950s through the Library Services Act. Another was the Illinois Valley District Library Project, which encompassed 11 townships in two counties around Peru. This 15-month demonstration began on April 1, 1958. About 9,000 book titles, including over 5,000 new titles purchased specifically for the project, and the rest on loan from the State Library, were available on the lower level of the Peru Public Library, which was remodeled for the project. Circulation reached 88,000 from May 1, 1958, to April 30, 1959, and 16 bookmobile stops crisscrossed the area. In the summer of 1958, bookmobile stops featured a 45-minute children’s storytime, and district children were also treated to a summer reading program called “Win with the Library Baseball League.” The district librarian assessed the program’s success in subjective terms – the “faces of the children as they discover new friends between the gaily colored pages of a book,” “the murmured anticipation and satisfaction with which children and adults alike greet the bookmobile,” and the less-attractive “weary backs of the laboring staff.” But the smaller libraries never banded with the larger Peru Public Library as had been hoped. The “faces of the children” did not sway adults to vote for a tax-supported district library, as a referendum failed badly in the fall of 1959.476

A similar fate befell the Prairie Trails Library District Project in Rochelle. Eight townships in Ogle County and two in Lee County were the focus of this demonstration, which also began on April 1, 1958 with a cooperative effort between the Flagg Township Library in Rochelle and the Stillman Valley Library. Flagg Township Library cardholders were treated to a “coffee hour” for informal discussions in the fall of 1957, and the “response was beyond what it had been hoped,” which led to funding for the demonstration. The project opened with free library cards to all citizens of the 10 townships at both libraries. Bookmobile service began three months later, covering an average of 185 miles per week. In the fall of 1958, de Lafayette Reid himself delivered a new bookmobile to the project, and Rochelle Junior High School students spent only 10 minutes in transferring the collection from the old bookmobile to the new. Reid then gave the students a ride in the new vehicle, “making himself a very popular person in Rochelle.” Again, though, public support failed to materialize, and the project was defeated at the polls in the fall of 1959.477

In southwestern Illinois, the Mascoutah Junior Chamber of Commerce took the initiative, formulating a plan for library service in parts of Clinton, Monroe, St. Clair, and Washington counties. Through visits in the communities of each county, the Jaycees determined that 46 townships wanted library service. A plan was then presented to the Selection Committee, with headquarters in Mascoutah and branches in        other larger communities in the district. The Kaskaskia Regional Library Project was initiated on Feb. 5, 1959, with books from the State Library, along with new purchases, comprising the collection. The Jaycees continued to spearhead the “excellently motivated” effort, and the State Library implemented a plan of community action, appearing before numerous groups and even hiring local people to run newly created branch libraries.478

By May 1959, six branch libraries and bookmobile service had been established with a total of 7,000 volumes. But despite the best efforts of the Jaycees and the community involvement of the State Library, continuation of the Kaskaskia Regional Library Project lost by a landslide in September 1960. Using what they had learned from the previous four projects, the State Library launched more efforts at decade’s end, with an emphasis on cooperation among libraries. In northeastern Illinois, public libraries of Dundee Township, Elgin, and Roselle organized a cooperative effort called the Fox River Regional Library, which received  funding on Oct. 26, 1959. The project aimed at being a regional cooperative with more efficiency and benefits among the member libraries, including bookmobile service to smaller communities in the area. This, too, was met with voter apathy, as a referendum to continue the program suffered defeat in a 1961 vote.479

Despite this string of defeats, two Library Services Act projects met with success. For decades, library service in southern Illinois, the poorest region of the state, had suffered. It remained the area least-served by public libraries in the state, and its existing public libraries were generally smaller both in size and financial support. Realizing this, a survey conducted by the State Library and the Southern Illinois University library in Carbondale in June 1957 identified the most glaring needs of libraries in the 34 southernmost  counties in the state. This marked the first example of  “institutional cooperation” under the new Library Services Act.480

The braintrust of the State Library in the early 1950s, from left, were longtime Secretary Vonnetti Dieckhaus; Public Services Section Chief de Lafayette Reid; Extension Services Chief Laura Langston; Archives Chief Margaret Cross Norton; Technical Services Chief Clara Curran; and Assistant State Librarian Helene Rogers, right.

The braintrust of the State Library in the early 1950s, from left, were longtime Secretary Vonnetti Dieckhaus; Public Services Section Chief de Lafayette Reid; Extension Services Chief Laura Langston; Archives Chief Margaret Cross Norton; Technical Services Chief Clara Curran; and Assistant State Librarian Helene Rogers, right.

Results of the survey supported the need for a regional library in the area to improve overall public library service. Using Library Services Act funding, the State Library established the Southern Illinois Regional Library in Carbondale on Feb. 1, 1958. The regional library was located on the second floor of the Delyte Morris Library at Southern Illinois University. Goals of the library went far beyond traditional library service. A regional librarian was to work with the Community Development Department at SIU to promote community involvement in southern Illinois. The Community Development Department, which focused on economic development in lower-income areas, and the library became active partners in the effort. Unlike previous endeavors by the State Library, this one closely examined existing problems, gathered data, and worked with citizens to provide solutions, not only to the lack of libraries but also to other pressing community needs.481

The library was to provide “leadership and consultant services” to promote and develop improved library service. Libraries in sparsely populated areas were to receive assistance with supplemental book collections, book selection, and in technical matters. The project was also charged with organizing citizens in unserved areas to promote district or regional library systems. Existing libraries were also to be affiliated for “mutual benefits” with increased local awareness and higher tax levies.482

The State Library reading room on Aug. 20, 1958.

The State Library reading room on Aug. 20, 1958.

This far-reaching effort produced library conferences and institutes in southern Illinois, while newsletters and booklists were mailed to all public libraries in the 34 counties. The first workshop for public libraries with Library Services Act funds was held in Carbondale in 1958 as a joint venture between the regional library and the State Library. There, the public librarians of the 34 served counties were able to study such subjects as reference work, cataloging, and budgets. By September 1959, bookmobile service was reaching 31 public libraries in 22 counties. From the bookmobile, public libraries could obtain large quantities of titles for redistribution to their patrons. Films were shown during children’s hours in many libraries, and many more Illinoisans enjoyed better public library service as a result of these efforts. The services of the regional library were enhanced by the cooperation of the university library, which regularly supplied personnel and advice to meet the needs of their tenant and the public libraries it served. The strong relationship between the State Library and the university ensured the success of the project, which served as a model for others to follow.483

To the north, a similar project was in the works. In the spring of 1958, the Savanna Regional Service Center was expanded into a regional library using federal funding. While librarians in the Savanna area were pleased with the services offered by the regional service center (as were librarians near the other centers), those libraries were still suffering from lack of financial support. Because of this, the State Library made the decision to upgrade the Savanna center into a regional library, in the hopes of enhancing public library service in that area. Additional staff was hired at the Savanna location, the collection increased, and a large basement room headquarters of the Savanna Public Library was renovated and refurnished. Among the functions of the library were book selection and weeding, providing supplementary book collections, and handling of reference referrals.484

Based on the strength of the Carbondale project, the DeKalb Regional Service Center was upgraded to regional library status in November 1960, and rural libraries in 17 Northern Illinois counties were aided by the services it provided. In July 1962, the Western Illinois Regional Library was established at Western Illinois University in Macomb to cover 25 counties in that part of the state. The regional library projects were among the greatest successes of the Library Services Act during its earliest years in Illinois.485

Each regional librarian also served as a field consultant. Consulting roles, long a staple of extension efforts, received much more attention as the 1950s progressed and the Library Services Act matured. A consultant office was added to the State Library in 1957, followed by a juvenile consultant that December. The ILA had long advocated such a position at the State Library. In October 1959, an adult education consultant was introduced, and the following August, a research consultant was added to “investigate the possibilities for improving and extending service.” A statistician also joined the staff in 1960. A library careers consultant was added in 1961, as was an institutional consultant in 1963 who worked with the Illinois Department of Mental Health. The nation had experienced a severe shortage in trained librarians in the late 1950s, especially those with rural or extension backgrounds, and the State Library was again called upon to provide suitable consultant services. Each department of the library named a staffer to act as a “consultant upon request” during this period.486

These mixed results again opened the State Library to criticism. In particular, critics charged that the library was engaging in “passive leadership” through their dependence on the citizenry to become more involved in the library movement. The library’s directive that all projects should “emanate from the local level” was seen as a special weakness. Since most public libraries helped by the Library Services Act were small and underfunded, critics also complained that the library actually contributed to their “state of weakness” by “subsidizing [those libraries] at a very low level, while hoping someone else would shoulder the burden.” Still, the State Library managed to effectively promote improved library usage around the state.487

Unlike the grudging admissions of demonstration failures of the 1940s, the library now remained optimistic, even in the wake of the defeats of the Library Services Act projects. While the failed projects did not meet expectations, the library still believed they were “learning experiences” and created “an awakened interest in better library service,” which helped “the existing libraries to do a better job.” Although four referendums met defeat by 1960, the Henderson County project was a resounding success, and the development of the regional libraries gave many more Illinoisans improved service.488

Many other programs arose in the late 1950s as a result of the Library Services Act. Starting in 1957, a project called “Strengthening the Illinois State Library” was annually approved to provide supplementary funds for library operations. These funds were traditionally used for administering federal acts or for programs where state funds were not available. In 1959, this was referred to as “the catch-all project” and also covered emergencies arising from management of the Library Services Act policies. In 1957, using research grants from Library Service Act funds, the State Library began collecting and analyzing data relating to statewide library needs, especially for rural areas. This was often done in conjunction with the research consultant on the State Library staff. A traveling exhibit of children’s books, designed to help librarians in smaller communities determine what juvenile literature to purchase, was funded in 1957 and previewed at the State Library. The exhibit was rotated among eight public libraries, three State Library Service Centers, and five schools that year.489