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State Library to Celebrate 175th Anniversary

Next month, the Illinois State Library (ISL) will celebrate the 175th anniversary of its establishment. Young Illinois Secretary of State (and future U.S. Senator for Illinois), Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861) founded the ISL in 1839.

As Gwladys Spencer recounted in The Chicago Public Library: Origins and Backgrounds, the library was originally founded to serve the Illinois General Assembly and Illinois Supreme Court. The first appropriation to purchase books for the library in question was $5,000.

A law passed December 15, 1843 divided the collection in two. The legal books fell under the care of the Illinois Supreme Court – the origin of the modern Supreme Court of Illinois Library now in the Supreme Court Building – while the miscellaneous books formed the collection of the new Illinois State Library under the care of the Illinois Secretary of State.

On March 5, 1867, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law that changed the administration of the ISL with the creation of a board of commissioners that consisted of the governor, secretary of state, and superintendent of public instruction. In 1887, the ISL moved into space on the west end of the third floor of the Capitol Building.

This space became increasingly cramped and on June 25, 1917, Governor Frank O. Lowden signed a law passed by the 50th General Assembly – Senate Bill 611 – that authorized the construction of a building to house the Illinois State Library, Illinois State Historical Library, Illinois State Museum, Lincoln collection, war museum, battle flags, and Department of Public Instruction. Ground for the new building was broken on October 5, 1918, the year Illinois celebrated the 100th anniversary of being admitted to the Union, which is why it was called the “Centennial Building.” It is now called the Michael J. Howlett Building (also called the Michael J. Howlett State Office Building).

House Bill 694, which passed June 20, 1921, amended eight sections of the State Library Act (1874). The law, which went into effect July 1, 1921, created three ISL divisions and re-stipulated that the secretary of state was the state librarian.

It replaced the Library Extension Commission, which had moved from Decatur to Springfield in 1914, with the Library Extension Division, and created the Archives Division. The Library Extension Commission was located across the Capitol rotunda on the fourth floor of the east wing.

Margaret Cross Norton (1891-1984) was Chief of the Archives Division of the ISL from April 1, 1922 to April 15, 1957. The other two division superintendents were Harriet M. Skogh (1884-1964), who was in charge of the General Library Division, and Anna May Price, who was in charge of the Library Extension Division.

They had to coordinate the move of the ISL collections from the Illinois State Capitol where the General Library Division occupied the west end of the third floor and the Library Extension Division occupied the fourth floor of the east wing, into the new Centennial Building, which was completed in 1923.

Between June 20 and June 30, 1923, ISL employees moved 86,000 bound volumes and a century’s worth of laws and documents through the new underground tunnel from the Capitol Building south to the Centennial Building. The old three-story ornamental book stack from the Capitol Building was taken apart and also moved to the new library space in the Centennial Building.

The library's public space consisted of the large reading and reference room located on the third floor above the Memorial Hall (Hall of Flags). Until 1970, the east end of this third-floor space was shared with the Illinois State Historical Library.

The ISL was housed in the Centennial Building until the Gwendolyn Brooks Building opened in 1990. The Illinois State Library shared space with the Illinois State Historical Library (ISHL) on the third floor above the Flag Hall until 1970 when the ISHL moved into new quarters under the Old State Capitol.

An underground, two-level parking garage was also built beneath the lawn (much like the garages under Grant Park). The Old State Capitol was re-dedicated on December 3, 1968, as a part of the State’s Sesquicentennial celebration. The ISHL later vacated the Old Capitol to become the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, which is home not only to the eponymous Lincoln collection of books and archival materials, but also books, maps, and thousands of boxes of personal and professional papers and other records related to the state’s political, business, and cultural leaders.

As the Archives Division of the ISL moved from the Centennial Building to the Illinois State Archives Building (later called the Margaret Cross Norton Building) in 1938 and the Illinois State Museum moved into the museum building erected south of the Archives Building in the 1960s, the ISL expanded into the spaces in the Centennial Building formerly occupied by those other cultural institutions. The Illinois State Museum also has a library of its own.

As the ISL prepares to celebrate its dodransbicentennial, it seeks responses to a resource-sharing survey.

For many of those 175 years, promoting and developing resource sharing between Illinois libraries of all types has been among the most important responsibilities of the State Library. In order to continue to provide effective coordination of the library resources of public, academic, school and special libraries, the ISL is interesting in surveying the opinions about resource sharing of all staff at all ILLINET libraries. The survey will be available for completion through March 1, 2014.

For the purposes of this survey, we are defining ‘resource sharing’ as interlibrary loan, reciprocal borrowing/lending, delivery, participation in shared catalogs, and other programs/services that share materials between libraries or their patrons. Your opinion is important to us, and we are grateful for your time. You may access and complete the survey here: If you have any questions about the survey, please direct them to ISL Consultant Robert Jones at rjones [at]

In other news, the ISL has extended the deadline for the state’s public libraries to “submit articles about the positive generational impacts of their services and programs” from New Year’s Day to February 1, 2014. ISL Chief Deputy Director Lawren Tucker wrote in the ISL’s e-newsletter last week, “As we announced earlier, Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White is collaborating with Continuance Magazine to publish an April 2014 tribute issue on public libraries in Illinois. Continuance is a publication that highlights ‘knowledge and understanding passing from generation to generation.’ We are seeking your help to include compelling stories about library programs and/or services that have a meaningful impact on your residents and community.”

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