The Problem of Unserved Residents

As the 1950s passed its mid-point, the relationship between the library and the Illinois Library Association continued to improve. In 1957, the ILA discontinued its newsletter, The Record, and Illinois Libraries began to include increasing amounts of ILA news and events. The front-page artwork of the ILA newsletter was also incorporated into Illinois Libraries. The inclusion was one noticeable change in Illinois Libraries, which was not only growing in size but was also featuring more articles written by librarians both at the State Library and throughout Illinois. For several years after its creation in 1919, Illinois Libraries had served as a general source of information for libraries, but it took on a different tone in the 1940s under Helene Rogers. With her aptitude for public relations, Illinois Libraries, as well as the State Library section of the biennial Illinois Blue Book, became more professional public relations outlets for the library. Now under de Lafayette Reid, Illinois Libraries evolved into something more like a scholarly journal for librarians. The 1956 survey referred to Illinois Libraries as “one of the better state library-sponsored publications” in the nation.459

The State Library also explored other media as avenues for its message. In 1955-56, the library, in cooperation with the University of Illinois Library School and the university’s Television – Motion Pictures Department, produced a weekly 15-minute program called “Book Talk.” The series featured informal discussions on book news and reviews, as well as interviews with authors and experts on a wide array of subjects. In an effort by the State Library and the university’s Audio-Visual Aids Service, 13 episodes were made available for non-commercial use for libraries. Aimed at middle-income families, the series became a model for public libraries in Danville, Quincy, and Rock Island, as well as around the nation, not only for training purposes but also to supplement their own televised productions. The State Library also provided funds for the subsequent University of Illinois series, “Books in Balance,” a half-hour show broadcast on WILL-TV, the university’s public television station, in 1956. Although television was still in its infancy, the library was already utilizing the new media for its own purposes.460

The library also continued to serve, in the words of Reid, “as an intermediary for transferring books from one library or group to another.” In this program, “usable books no longer needed” by school and public libraries in Illinois were collected by the State Library, held in a “surplus collection,” and distributed where needed. Some of these “surplus” books were shipped around the world. In 1955, the State Library helped replace the library of Agusan College in Butan City, Phillippines, after its resources had been destroyed by fire. Books were also sent to the local high school in Holly Pond, Alabama.461

During that same time, the library acquired more shelving space in the Centennial Building. Construction began in the fall of 1955 and was completed on March 5, 1956. Prior to the work, the library was using 7,333 shelves; the renovation provided an additional 5,181 shelves, a 71 percent increase. The additional space was generated by placing the ground-level stacks closer together and by “superimposing four new levels of shelving in a hitherto unused area.” With simple steps – ones that should have been taken years before – many books came out of temporary storage and onto shelving. It was a “red-letter day” in the Juvenile Unit in August 1956, when every book in the Collections Unit not on loan finally found a place on the shelf. The process included unloading “53 jeeps of stored books and 14 book trucks.” However, the measure was hardly a long-term remedy for conditions in the Centennial Building. The library continued to push for a large addition to the Archives Building into which it would relocate. But the Illinois State Museum was also eyeing that property, and the rivalry between the library and the museum was heating up once again.462

With renewed cooperation, the library and ILA continued to work toward their longstanding goal of public library service for all Illinoisans. Although decades of efforts had resulted in some success, by 1953 a total of 18.9 percent of Illinoisans remained without access to public libraries. This placed Illinois 23rd in the nation in the percentage of unserved residents, leaving it behind such neighboring states as Michigan (13.2%). Thirteen states ranked under 10 percent, including Massachusetts, one of three states reporting 100 percent of its population served by public libraries.463

Illinois was also spending less on library service than many other states. The 95 cents per capita spent for public library service in Illinois ranked the state 20th in the nation. By contrast, Ohio was spending $1.77 per capita, Michigan $1.23 and Wisconsin $1.19. While Ohio, New York ($1.50) and Massachusetts ($2.10) were the only three states that met the American Library Association’s recommended library spending minimums of $1.50 per capita, Illinois clearly fell short. This was true in light of the state’s relatively high per-capita income. Of the 401 tax-supported libraries in Illinois, only 138 reached the ALA’s goal of $1.50 per capita. Reid aptly noted that, “we need not be smug or complacent about Illinois’ relative position library-wise in our National picture.”464

Lack of public library service continued as a national problem, with over 27 million Americans remaining unserved. For many years, library leaders across the nation joined in calls for federal funding to spur public library development. On June 19, 1956, those calls were finally heard when President Eisenhower signed Public Law 597, better known as the Library Services Act.465

The act was a landmark in the public library movement. Titled “An Act to promote the further development of public library service in rural areas,” the sum of $7.5 million was to be appropriated for five succeeding fiscal years beginning immediately. Each state was to receive $40,000, with the U.S. Virgin Islands receiving $10,000. Remaining money was to be allotted to “each State such part of the remainder of such sums as the rural population of the State bears to the rural population of the United States.” The funds were to be matched by each state using a ratio of per capita income, with state money always exceeding federal money. The states themselves determined how to best spend the money to spread library service to the unserved areas and to raise the level of service in areas already served. The act applied only to areas with populations of less than 10,000.466

The task of “administration, or supervision” was charged to the “State Library administrative agency” in each state. Few restrictions were placed on how the money could be spent, beyond allowing no building construction or land purchases. Money was not to be spent “to provide or improve library services in any area other than a rural area.” “Better Libraries for More People,” a slogan of the Library Services Branch of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, became an apt motto for the program.467

Illinois quickly established itself as a leader in fund administration. A few weeks after the signing of the Library Services Act, the Illinois State Library and the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science produced a film called “The Magic Number.” That “magic number” was 597 – the number of the new public law. Illinois was reported to be “one of the first states, if not the first, to interpret the act through an audiovisual presentation.” The film explained and defined the provisions of the act. While set in Illinois, it was applicable to practically any state, and was shown at the American Library Association Conference in Kansas City in 1957.468

Books are readied for mailing in the State Library shipping room in May 1953.

Books are readied for mailing in the State Library shipping room in May 1953.

Kansas City had also been the setting for a Midwest regional conference the previous October 29-31 on plans to distribute Library Services Act funds. Each state was required to submit a proposal for approval by the U.S. Commissioner of Education. Reid, other State Library staffers, and three librarians appointed by the ILA president, were given the responsibility of drafting the proposal for Illinois, to be approved by the Illinois State Library Advisory Committee prior to submission. The Illinois State Plan was one of 35 to reach the Commissioner of Education the following spring and was approved on April 2, 1957.469

Even before submission of the plan, the State Library determined that no further demonstrations would be conducted because “the people of Illinois no longer need to be shown what library service can mean to them.” However, the library would change that position in a matter of months. In September 1956, de Lafayette Reid’s temporary position was made permanent, likely as a direct result of the importance of administering the Library Services Act. A lengthy article written by the newly appointed Reid appeared in that month’s issue of Illinois Libraries. Clearly, the Library Services Act was a turning point, not only for the nation, but for the Illinois library movement as well.470