In her nearly six years as Director of the Illinois State Library, Jean Wilkins oversaw some of the greatest technological advancements in the history of the institution. She also reaffirmed the library’s leadership role in library training and made great efforts to improve relationships with librarians around the state. Under Wilkins’ leadership, administration and staff aggressively pursued grants and other alternative means of library funding.

Born Sept. 8, 1942, in the Anna-Jonesboro region of southern Illinois, Wilkins graduated from Murray State University in Kentucky in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in music education. She then spent 10 years teaching music and elementary school in Illinois, Nebraska, and Colorado. 1

Wilkins joined the staff of the State Library on March 1, 1980, first as an administrative assistant before heading OCLC network operations. She soon recognized the necessity of having a library science degree, enrolling in the Graduate School of Library Science at the University of Illinois. Commuting two days a week from Springfield to Champaign for a year and a half, she graduated with a Master of Library and Information Sciences degree in 1985. 2

In 1994, Wilkins was appointed associate director for Administration and Planning, overseeing reference, technical services, interlibrary loan, and digital services. Her ability to tackle a wide array of issues, along with her engaging personality, made her a natural candidate to succeed longtime Director Bridget Lamont, who resigned in 1999. 3

During her tenure as Director, Wilkins formed close relationships with major foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum & Library Services. She also oversaw continuing development of digital library tools, such as Find-It! Illinois, the Statewide Illinois Library Catalog, and the Illinois Digital Archives. Wilkins also dedicated herself to strengthening relationships with Illinois librarians. As she had in her previous positions at the State Library, Wilkins spent much time on the road visiting with librarians statewide. As a result, she was “in the field” on nearly a weekly basis. 4

After nearly six successful years, Wilkins retired as Director on Dec. 17, 2004. Nine days prior to her departure, a reception held in her honor attracted nearly 300 well-wishers. Her last day in office was designated “Jean Wilkins Day” in the city of Springfield. Secretary of State Jesse White called Wilkins “a wonderful friend and an outstanding public servant,” lauding “her tireless commitment” to the Illinois library network. Wilkins’ former employees likewise remember her sunny disposition and love of her job. 5

In her retirement, Wilkins has traveled the globe while keeping a hand in librarianship. In addition to consulting and reviewing grants for libraries, she has taught online classes in library budgeting. Wilkins and her husband, Joe, split their time between Pleasant Plains and their winter quarters in Arizona. The Wilkins are the parents of two children, Mary, who followed her mother in library science, and Chuck, a computer network administrator. 6

  1. Illinois Insight Jan.-Feb. 1999, 1, 3, Jan.-Feb. 2005, 1; Interview with Jean Wilkins.
  2. Illinois Insight Jan.-Feb. 2005, 1; Interview with Jean Wilkins.
  3. Illinois Insight Jan.-Feb. 1999, 1, 3, Jan.-Feb. 2005, 1.
  4. Illinois Insight Jan.-Feb. 2005, 1; Interview with Jean Wilkins.
  5. Illinois Insight Jan.-Feb. 2005, 1; Interview with Alyce Scott; Interview with Raymond Collins; Interview with Anne Craig.
  6. Interview with Jean Wilkins.