Reference Services at the University of Illinois Library: Sept. 1926-1950 (The Advent of the Information Desk)

The reference department moved into the Reading Room in the new library building (the current Main Library) in September 1926, although the rest of the library remained in Altgeld Hall for the remainder of that semester. In the earliest years of the room's use, reference books occupied the north half of the room, with periodicals housed in the south half. The room had seating for 516 students. A reference desk, which was situated across from the room’s entryway, was occupied by librarians available to answer in-person reference questions and to assist patrons in using the room’s resources.

After only a few years, the reference department also began advocating for the usefulness of having an information desk in the central second floor room with the card catalog. An information desk near the catalog opened for the first time in September 1937. 6,370 questions were recorded at this desk in its first year, although more were asked that were not recorded. The assistants at the Information Desk focused on instructing patrons on the use of the card catalog and shelf list; helping patrons locate specific titles; suggesting subject headings for subject searches; and answering general information questions about campus and the library. The Information Desk was a successful addition to the library’s services, and the Reference Department Annual Report from 1941-42 stated that “many have expressed their appreciation of the saving of time effected by contact with a trained reference worker at the Card Catalog” (1). In 1943, the Information Desk was staffed during the summer for the first time.

With the transition to the new library building, the reference department continued to offer existing services as well as develop new ones. The popular practice of putting out a vacation collection of useful travel materials on several tables in the Reading Room during the summer months continued. During World War II, the department received frequent questions relating to the war effort, as well as questions from officers and enlisted men. The department also began creating bibliographies on post-war planning. Throughout this period correspondence questions continued to arrive from both Illinois patrons and from patrons in other states and countries. In fact, the number of questions from out-of-state patrons increased during this period, while the number of questions from Illinois patrons began to decrease. The reference department got its own Bell telephone during the 1944-45 academic year in addition to their existing campus phone. This allowed for communication with other libraries that were not on campus, as well as local community patrons. In the spring of 1944, the library began to offer tours focusing on the card catalog and the Reading Room for the Rhetoric 2 classes on campus. During the second year of this cooperation, 1,434 students participated in the instructional tours.

In the 1940s, there were two frequent issues mentioned in library annual reports: first, the practice of sororities and fraternities requiring mandatory study hall hours for pledges in the Reading Room and second, the noise from smokers congregating on the library stairwell when smoking was allowed in the building. During the 1942-43 year, a regulation discontinued the practice of informally reserving tables in the room, but the practice of sororities and fraternities having mandatory study hours continued to be mentioned after that. Librarians also noted problems with noise from the first and second floor foyers and the stairs due to students congregating there to smoke, and by 1954-55 the annual report states, “Ever since smoking was first permitted inside the building, the roar has annually increased from corridors and foyer. This year the tendency to smoke and congregate on the landing outside the Reading Room has grown uncontrollable. For reasons of time, function, and resultant ill-will, librarians cannot profitably perform as disciplinarians; but there is little hope of maintaining order without assistance from the University Police in the matter of smoking” (2).

Images

Daily Illini article on the new Information Desk, Oct 1, 1937

Daily Illini article on the new Information Desk, Oct 1, 1937

An article from the Daily Illini about the services and hours provided by the newly created Information Desk. | Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections: Daily Illini http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinoisza=d&d=DIL19371001&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN------- View File Details Page

The reference desk in the Reading Room of the Main Library, March 1938.

The reference desk in the Reading Room of the Main Library, March 1938.

Photograph of reference desk staff and library patrons in the Main Library. Staff behind the desk include Madeline Cord, Fanny Dunlap, and Dorothy Black. | Source: University of Illinois Archives http://archives.library.illinois.edu/archon/index.phpzp=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=8556, copyright holder unknown View File Details Page

Daily Illini article on the Information Desk, from the Dec 1, 1939 issue

Daily Illini article on the Information Desk, from the Dec 1, 1939 issue

Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections: Daily Illini http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinoisza=d&d=DIL19391201&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN------- View File Details Page

Daily Illini article on the Information Desk, from the Oct 25, 1941 issue

Daily Illini article on the Information Desk, from the Oct 25, 1941 issue

Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections: Daily Illini http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinoisza=d&d=DIL19411025&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN------- View File Details Page

The Reference Room of the Main Library being used for student registration, October 1943

The Reference Room of the Main Library being used for student registration, October 1943

Source: University of Illinois Archives: http://archives.library.illinois.edu/archon/index.phpzp=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=8558, copyright holder unknown View File Details Page

A Daily Illini photo and text of students studying in the Reference Room, Sept 19, 1946

A Daily Illini photo and text of students studying in the Reference Room, Sept 19, 1946

Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections: Daily Illini http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinoisza=d&d=DIL19460919&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN------- View File Details Page

Staff members assist students at the reference desk, December 11, 1946

Staff members assist students at the reference desk, December 11, 1946

Staff members Miss Johnson, Miss Tharpe, and Miss Black assisting students at the reference desk in the Reference Room of the Main Library. | Source: University of Illinois Archives: http://archives.library.illinois.edu/archon/index.phpzp=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=8557, copyright holder unknown View File Details Page

Daily Illini article on the Reference Department's Vacation Collection, July 2, 1947

Daily Illini article on the Reference Department's Vacation Collection, July 2, 1947

Source: Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections: Daily Illini http://idnc.library.illinois.edu/cgi-bin/illinoisza=d&d=DIL19470702&e=-------en-20--1--txt-txIN------- View File Details Page

Printer's Mark Window in the Reading Room, May 5, 2010

Printer's Mark Window in the Reading Room, May 5, 2010

Tinted glass window in the Library Reference Room depicting the device used by the printer Jehan Frellon, as interpreted and designed by J. Scott Williams. | Source: University of Illinois Archives: http://archives.library.illinois.edu/archon/index.phpzp=digitallibrary/digitalcontent&id=6580 '© University of Illinois View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Sarah Hoover and Caitlin Crane , “Reference Services at the University of Illinois Library: Sept. 1926-1950 (The Advent of the Information Desk),” ExploreCU, accessed June 27, 2017, http://explorecu.org/items/show/322.
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