The Departure of Alphonse Trezza

By late 1974, Alphonse Trezza’s tenure at the State Library was coming to an end. That fall, he was named executive director of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, a tribute not only to his visionary leadership in library science but also his political prowess. On Dec. 1, 1974, he began a 13-month leave of absence from his position. Kathryn “Kay” Gesterfield, the library’s assistant director of Development, was appointed acting director. Trezza chose not to return to Springfield, and Secretary of State Michael Howlett announced on June 9 that Gesterfield would become permanent State Library Director on August 1, the effective date of Trezza’s resignation.751

Al Trezza made an enormous impression on the State Library in his five years as director, which would be felt for years to come. Trezza had built upon the foundation created by de Lafayette Reid and helped vault the State Library into the elite of state libraries. His devotion to library cooperation set the course for the high level of library service that Illinoisans enjoy today. Equally important was his work in systems development, as he used his political savvy and communication skills to secure consistent and plentiful funding for Illinois libraries. Some criticized Trezza as using an iron-fisted approach. In a 1972 Wilson Library Bulletin article, Arthur Plotnik conceded that some believed Trezza “a dictator, a little Napoleon, a staunch member of the ‘establishment,’ and all his talk just a lot of hot air.” But Alphonse Trezza’s hardfought legacy lives on at the State Library, where he was long remembered with affection by many former employees. And his work brought overwhelming benefit to countless Illinois library users.752

Plotnik summed up Trezza’s personality and enthusiasm by reciting one of the director’s favorite sayings, a Henry David Thoreau passage about a “different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or however far away.”

“And what is the music that [Trezza] hears? When you talk to him…you have the feeling that there are seventeen symphonies, six ragtime bands, and a few drum and bugle corps all going at the same time – and all in perfect harmony. Whatever else might be heard about this most powerful librarian in Middle America, you will never hear that he steps to anyone’s music, any beat, but what he personally believes is the true, the just, and the beautiful.”753