Whoever is elected as Illinois secretary of state in the fall – Democrat Alexi Giannoulias or Republican state Rep. Dan Brady – we hope the winner keeps up the strong support for libraries shown by Jesse White, who is stepping down after five terms.

In addition to directing more than 20 other departments, the Secretary of State serves as Chief Librarian and State Archivist of Illinois. White is widely considered to have used his position to champion libraries, readers, writers, and lifelong learners in an age when access to reliable information is of critical importance.

White’s many initiatives include the Public Library Building Program; Project Next Generation, which brings young people into libraries; the Talking Book and Braille Service; and the Veterans History Project. Its Expanding Digital Inclusion: Transforming Library Services program makes laptops available at checkout.

During his administration, nearly $100 million was spent to improve libraries and expand services. He has donated nearly $6 million to help libraries deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. White accomplished all of this even during times of fiscal austerity.

All of this is important to Illinois. Libraries encourage reading and literacy. They open the doors of culture and knowledge. They provide educational resources, access to digital databases that many people cannot afford, and Internet connectivity to those who do not have it. They offer programs for adults and children and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Many provide makerspaces with 3D printers that encourage creativity. Many offer bookmobiles and door-to-door services which are a lifesaver for those who cannot get to a library. Local libraries have been called the people’s university.

Like many institutions, libraries have struggled to adapt to the changes of the information age. But they are also incredible resources to help clients, especially those without much of their own, navigate the modern world and the complexities of modern life, from healthcare research to obtaining passports. Libraries are essential to building strong communities.

Over the years, we’ve heard countless people recall how spending time in libraries when they were young nurtured their intellectual curiosity and understanding of the world.

Illinois must ensure that its libraries remain strong, for those who need library service and for all who crave knowledge.

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