Gesterfield Takes Over

Kay Gesterfield had come to the State Library as a consultant in 1970 after serving for eight years as director of the Champaign Public Library as well as on the Illinois State Library Advisory Committee. By 1972, she had ascended to assistant director for Development. A former vice president of the ILA, Gesterfield was well liked by subordinates and well-respected within the Illinois library community. Critics charged that Gesterfield did not provide decisive leadership, likely a reflection after the perceived iron will and intense focus of Trezza’s style. However, Gesterfield performed competently with a calm style of management, keeping the State Library among the most influential of state libraries.754

Only a few weeks into the job, Gesterfield faced unwanted notoriety. North Suburban Library System Director Robert McClarren recalled that Secretary of State Michael Howlett used Gesterfield’s name on the eve of upcoming elections, “apparently for political gain among feminists.” Howlett claimed that he had appointed the highest-ranking female in state government in Gesterfield as library director. This episode rankled many librarians, who felt the Secretary was “not library-friendly.”755

Shortly thereafter, Howlett presented a budget proposal to cut system funding. McClarren remembered at the time that Mary Howe, director of the Starved Rock system, conferred with two of her system’s board members, who were also members of the General Assembly. The legislators soon followed up with Gesterfield to collect more information. Gesterfield wisely notified Howlett of the meeting, although no one from the Secretary’s office chose to attend. Gesterfield and her assistant director, James Beasley, met with the legislators, who in turn met with the Secretary to voice their concerns. Howlett, angered by the turn of events, suspended Beasley, pending dismissal for “violation of protocol.” This move annoyed the Illinois library community, who believed Beasley was a “fall guy” for Howlett, who could not afford to fire Gesterfield, his “highly publicized female star.”756

A computer system used in the North Suburban Library System in the 1970s.

A computer system used in the North Suburban Library System in the 1970s.

Beasley filed a grievance, upheld by the Civil Service Commission, and retained his job. Howlett, however, was not so lucky. The Secretary was the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1976, and Illinois librarians were in no mood to support him. Many of the 350,000 members of the Illinois library community voted against Howlett, who lost to Republican James Thompson. The Illinois Education Association claimed librarian turnout as a key factor in Howlett’s defeat (although it must be remembered that Howlett ran a half-hearted campaign in the face of certain defeat, falling by over 1.3 million votes). Still, the 1976 elections were an example of the growing political influence of Illinois librarians.757