In her eight years as State Library Director (1975-83), Kathryn “Kay” Gesterfield provided calm leadership and stability. In the process, she earned the respect of her subordinates and kept the library at the forefront of state libraries nationwide.

Born in Minatara, Nebraska, on April 3, 1915, Gesterfield attended the public schools of nearby Scottsbluff before enrolling at the University of Denver. There, she earned what she later referred to as a “prehistoric” degree — a bachelor’s in library science. Ironically, she was one of several Denver graduates in management positions at the State Library in the 1970s, a list that included senior reference librarian Stanley Adams and consultant Barry Booth. 1

After graduation, Gesterfield worked in the extension department of the Denver Public Library from 1939 to 1942. Gesterfield then enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps and served for two-and-a-half years in Texas, attaining the rank of first sergeant. Following her service, she returned to Scottsbluff and became the city’s public librarian, a position she held for 15 years. 2

In 1960, Gesterfield moved to Illinois and enrolled in the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library Science. She earned her master’s degree in 1961. The following year, she was appointed head librarian of the Champaign Public Library, where she remained for eight years. Gesterfield served as second vice president of the Illinois Library Association in 1968-69. She also served on the Illinois State Library Advisory Committee. 3

In 1970, Gesterfield was named consultant of the Library Development Group of the Illinois State Library. Two years later, she became Assistant to the Director for Library Development. Gesterfield was appointed Acting Director of the State Library in 1974 while Director Alphonse Trezza was on leave. She assumed the role on a permanent basis in 1975. 4

Although critics asserted that she was resistant to change, no one questioned Gesterfield’s dedication to her job. Remembered as a caring individual, friends laud her many  acts of kindness, something that Gesterfield rarely sought credit for. 5

Gesterfield was awarded the prestigious Librarian Citation by the Illinois Library Association in 1982. After her retirement the following year, she remained active in library affairs. She also served as a volunteer reference librarian at Springfield’s Lincoln (Public) Library. That a former State Library Director was willing to serve in such a volunteer role is a testament to Gesterfield’s character and dedication to the practice. 6

A member of numerous professional and fraternal organizations, she also loved spending time at home with her dogs. Gesterfield died at her Springfield home on March 15, 1998. She was survived by her husband of 47 years, Arnold, and a son. 7

  1. State Journal-Register March 17, 1998; Illinois Nodes May 31, 1972, 4, June 30, 1972, 4; Interview with Stanley Adams, Jan. 17, 2009.
  2. Illinois Nodes June 30, 1972, 4, June 20, 1975, 1.
  3. Illinois Libraries March 1969, 254; Illinois Nodes June 30, 1972, 4, June 20, 1975, 1.
  4. Illinois Nodes Oct. 15, 1974, 1, June 20, 1975, 1. Gesterfield’s rise may be traced in the personnel directories printed in various issues of Illinois Libraries.
  5. Interview with Jean Wilkins; Interview with Alyce Scott; Interview with Stanley Adams, Jan. 17, 2009.
  6. Illinois Libraries Feb. 1983, 148; State Journal-Register March 17, 1998.
  7. State Journal-Register March 17, 1998; Interview with Bridget Lamont; Interview with Alyce Scott.