APPENDIX B: Early Library System Development in Illinois — 1965-1972

Although there were the inevitable growing pains, Illinois library systems enjoyed substantial growth in their early years. Each system soon boasted welldeveloped programs, taking their cue from the Illinois State Library, which formerly hosted such special services. In December 1972, Illinois Libraries (in what would become an annual tradition) devoted an entire issue to system reports. Submitted by system directors, the reports show heady progress for a network still in its infancy.

The Bur Oak Library System, which had been at the forefront of sub-depositories holding visually impaired material, received a two-year, $69,000 LSCA grant on Feb. 1, 1972, to provide public library services to residents of seven correctional institutions. Such institutions also continued to receive attention from the Illinois State Library. A May 1972 article in Illinois Libraries carried the comic, if insensitive, title of “Books for Crooks.” The director of the Bur Oak system proudly noted his system’s growth in collections, including phonograph records “from bop to Bach” and a total film circulation of over 102,000. About 463 telephoned reference questions were received, with another 9,896 questions in person. This direct reference service, long a staple of the State Library, was now delegated to the systems, as were bookmobiles, another former State Library service. The Chicago Library System alone operated nine bookmobiles and 144 deposit stations. Total circulation for the Chicago system in 1971 was over 9.5 million. Book circulation among “underprivileged, low-income children” at six branches in the Chicago system increased as much as 53 percent from 1970 to 1971.

In central Illinois, the Corn Belt Library System received a $22,032 grant from the Library Resources and Enrichment Program (LREP). The funds were used for collection building at headquarters and to purchase materials for long-term loan to member libraries. The Books By Mail program continued with users choosing from a “well illustrated catalog” of nearly 1,200 paperback titles. The Books By Mail program was enthusiastically received by patrons, who offered ringing endorsements. Some particularly moving ones included:

“Thank God for this wonderful service. I am a very recent widow, living in our mobile home, have no transportation, except for a neighbor, and I am in poor health. I love to read, have all of my life…Thanks to you, I now have something to read.”

“I am a 24-year-old mother of three…I can’t get to the regular library so I really enjoy being able to get books by mail. So all I can say is thank you.”

“I live in a tiny town, and while I have access to the school library, there is no public library. I really look forward to your prompt shipments of my requests… is there a particular State office to which I can write telling them what your service has meant to me?”

The Corn Belt system also produced The Open Book, a television program. In addition, trailers were shown in movie theaters during National Library Week with the title “Books are Treasures – Dig Them.” In eastern Illinois, the Cumberland Trail Library System published a bimonthly newsletter, Memo, as part of an “improved public relations program,” which was required of all systems. A staff of 13 full-time and four part-time workers were employed by Cumberland Trail, whose members signed a resolution in December 1970 agreeing to participate in reciprocal borrowing. The director reported “no major problems due to the cooperative spirit prevailing among member libraries.”

In the DuPage Library System in the south suburbs of Chicago, the Library Resources and Enrichment Program provided $56,719 to the system and $15,487 to member libraries. Much of that money was spent on “non-print media,” such as cassettes and films. A union list of periodicals and newspapers was revised for the first time in September 1971 with duplicate titles identified among member libraries. Those titles, along with those no longer needed, were offered to member libraries within the system or sent outside the system boundary, such as to the Last Copy Depot in Rockford. As with many other systems, the Children’s Book Review Center was an integral part of activities in the early 1970s. But the DuPage system also saw far fewer reference requests than other systems – only 37 reference questions were received and answered in 1972. This demonstrates the specialization that was encouraged within systems, in the hope that systems would handle specific functions themselves and look to neighboring systems to fill their other library needs.

Many systems were headquartered in member libraries, but the Great River Library System in western Illinois completed a separate headquarters building in 1974 at a cost of just over $300,000. Great River was an example of a system reaching beyond state borders when it administered the Keosippi program, which included counties in Iowa. Great River member libraries borrowed 38,108 items in 1972, an increase of 11,504 from the previous year. Similar increases were experienced in the Illinois Valley Library System in the Peoria area, where 86,397 items were borrowed by patrons with borrowers’ cards at libraries other than their own. The director proudly called this “one of the most spectacular system developments.” Illinois Valley system staff participated in 42 meetings of member library boards and made 129 visits to assist member libraries with weeding, book selection, new buildings, and reference collection development in 1971-72. That system also successfully promoted the establishment of a new library, the Alpha Park Public Library District, in an unserved area in 1972.

The Kaskaskia Library System, which was also attempting to build a separate headquarters, reported an increase in its book collection of 26 percent. Interlibrary loans increased 13 percent after a gift of 68 microfilm reels from the Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville library that listed author, title, and subject catalogs. System catalog sharing was encouraged by the State Library. In one year, the Kaskaskia system book van traveled 10,863 miles and circulated over 42,000 books and over 900 8-millimeter films. Reciprocal borrowing was no problem, “other than the usual overdues.” But the Lewis and Clark Library System seemed slow in embracing the practice, reporting that it “has been accepted in principle by all of the member libraries,” but that “there is room for improvement.” That system identified a “need to promote the service throughout the area,” as it was seldom used by members. Among the activities of the Lewis and Clark system was an outreach to law enforcement agencies to create a collection of books and films on that subject. The LREP grants to the Lewis and Clark system were spent on microfilm “for the enrichment and development of the system collection.”

In east central Illinois, the Lincoln Trail Libraries System reported that membership had risen from 17 libraries in 1966 to 41 in 1972. Only three eligible libraries chose not to join the system. The director reported in 1972 that “local autonomy of members has not been encroached upon or disturbed.” While the Lincoln Trail and some other rural systems developed more slowly than larger urban systems, there was still much cause for optimism. One of the system’s original trustees “became so interested in library affairs” that she enrolled in the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science, earning her master’s degree in 1972. With pride apparent, the director declared that “no other system in Illinois that we know of can make the same claim.”

Chicago’s North Suburban Library System’s member librarians boasted a strong professionalism. Twenty-six of the system’s head librarians were graduates of an American Library Association-accredited library school, and 124 graduate librarians were also employed in member libraries. All but one member library was engaging in reciprocal borrowing, loaning a total of 139,420 books. The system was also experimenting with “coordinated acquisitions,” in which individual libraries focused on specific collections. The Skokie Public Library emphasized American literature and criticism, the Des Plaines Public Library focused on biographies, and the Arlington Heights Memorial Library emphasized educational topics. Special collections in railroad history and art were also assembled at the system headquarters for “assignment” to member libraries. Just to the west, the Northern Illinois Library System was assuming administrative responsibility for the Illinois Library Materials Processing Center in Rockford. This was another example of the delegation of responsibilities that came with sound system development.

“If change is the spice of life,” wrote the director, the River Bend Library System was “a warm place to be.” Among recent acquisitions was an IBM System 3, Model 6 computer that was rented for production of catalog cards, book catalogs, and storage functions. The system also contracted with Baker and Taylor, the large nationwide book wholesaler, to process the system’s books before delivery. This saved the system “considerable money” and freed the computer for production of book catalogs, which also saved time. On the system’s fifth anniversary on Oct. 27, 1971, representatives of 60 member libraries visited to examine the River Bend’s programs, study the computer, and “gather around the punch bowl.”

In central Illinois, the Rolling Prairie Library System reported minor problems with their reciprocal borrowing requirements. The Decatur Public Library was the only library “inundated with borrowers,” largely because it was the largest library in the system and was closely surrounded by many smaller member libraries. While no major problems had occurred, the “variety of registration procedures, methods of circulation, and user regulations” created some “stumbling blocks.” But cooperation in the Rolling Prairie system was still clearly evident. Professional system staff helped member libraries with weeding, evaluation, and book selection. The system also reported higher telephone bills and travel expenses as indicators of increased contact with member libraries.

Although it was composed of lower-income, rural libraries, the Shawnee Library System had established itself as a leader in many areas, including services to the blind and developmentally disabled. It was also a self-described “important link in the statewide interlibrary loan network.” Of the 30,000 reference and interlibrary loan transactions received in 1971-72, 77 percent were filled from system headquarters. The other 23 percent were filled through the Reference and Research Centers. Certainly, State Library administrators would have been pleased at the Shawnee system’s great initiative and with R & R centers serving as the “backstop” for questions that could not be handled by systems. The Shawnee system also reported a continued strong relationship with the Southern Illinois University Library, whose librarians helped the system’s “own excellent staff” to fill reference requests that were increasing in number and difficulty. Like many other systems, Shawnee hosted reading centers in areas not served by libraries, with 12 centers sponsored by the system in 1971-72. Another largely rural system, the Starved Rock Library System, sponsored a local radio program called “Library Line” and was also exploring a cooperative agreement with area correctional institutions. But like other systems, it was increasingly difficult for Starved Rock to find space to house its 100,000-volume collection, a minimum requirement for each system.

The State Library hoped that each system would cooperate with the others as effectively as the Suburban Library System of Chicago. That system’s Suburban Audiovisual Service was jointly funded with the North Suburban system and also served Starved Rock on a contractual basis. The system also reported that its member libraries were open for more hours than in the past, and several libraries were able to move into new quarters. However, reciprocal borrowing was somewhat of a problem. Two member libraries refused to participate in the practice and were subsequently suspended from system services.

The Western Illinois Library System had absorbed the Western Illinois Regional Library and its film cooperatives. Not surprisingly, it continued to develop those services. Audiovisuals received special emphasis; one example was a collection of 2,200 recordings owned by the Warren County Library (system headquarters) and made available to other member libraries. Distribution of a system book catalog, directory, Union List of serials, and system newsletter were also well underway. Guest lecturers for library programs were indexed in a speaker’s file. A bibliography of local history resources for the system area was also compiled and printed. Increased access to microfilm holdings, not only within the system but also from the State Library, was also provided.

System reports of succeeding years continued to confirm solid growth of the network. The successful development of the systems is a credit not only to Robert Rohlf, who recommended their establishment, but also to State Library directors de Lafayette Reid and Alphonse Trezza for their vision and commitment to library service for all Illinoisans.