The Vision of Alphonse Trezza

The spring 1971 double issue of Illinois Libraries (covering both April and May, a departure from the usual monthly edition) was devoted to “an in depth review and report” to “convey the Illinois State Library’s philosophy and program, as well as its goals and directions for the ‘70s.” The report covered nearly every aspect of State Library service with contributions from many unit heads. Director Alphonse Trezza wrote that “the functions of the State Library are multiple,” with “a reference and research library for all the agencies of the state” listed first. It is likely that Trezza, whom workers and friends remember as relishing the political nature of his job, similarly relished the political role of the State Library. Other “paramount” roles were to “promote and develop library services statewide, administer state and federal funds for library purposes, plan and support education and training programs for library personnel, to encourage and support library research, and to collect, preserve, and publish library statistics.”656

According to Trezza, “the clientele eligible for service remains the same as in the past, but means of service has changed.” One of the changes was the loaning of materials through the statewide network of libraries rather than directly to users. “This change,” said Trezza, “is intended to strengthen the library systems by habituating public library users to think of their community libraries as connecting links to rich and varied collections available through the network. It makes possible a more economic, efficient, and a higher quality of service at the local level.” Trezza declared, “direct service to all citizens is not possible or desirable.” This blunt statement demonstrates the departure from the policies fostered under Helene Rogers, who strived to spread free reading through State Library collections. Trezza further concluded, “the State Library does not have the collection or staff to provide such [direct] service.” “Cooperation after all,” wrote Trezza, “is not just a word or an idea; it is a philosophy, a belief.” In addition, Trezza clearly and firmly defined his vision for the library during his first months in office. He sought to make the Illinois State Library “second to none” in the nation.657

That bold statement reflected an equally bold personality. Alphonse Trezza established an air of authority with a dramatic switch from the genial style of de Lafayette Reid. According to many former employees, Trezza looked to cultivate close relationships with powerful Illinois lawmakers. Trezza insisted that State Library employees address him as “Mr. Trezza.” Workers who called him by his first name were subject to reprimand. His demand for respect was part of a managerial approach that the Springfield State Journal-Register reported he was remembered as the “Iron Duke.”658

However, Trezza also knew the value of a personal touch. Many longtime library staffers fondly recall Trezza’s personal interest in them, addressing them by name and listening to their concerns. Library workers were frequent guests in the Trezza home. Under Trezza, library employment underwent a significant change with the move to civil service. For decades, library jobs were part of the patronage system of Illinois government. Workers were selected based on their political affiliation and came and went with each party change in state government. During Trezza’s regime, employees were now hired on merit, based on passage of civil service examinations. The change resulted in a more professional workplace with higher productivity.659

Trezza also required all new employees to spend time working in all library departments. It was not unusual for workers to gain experience in cataloging, circulation, and documents within their first year of employment. As a result, employees gained a broad knowledge of librarianship; many used their cross training in later stages of their library careers. Trezza believed that successful organizations formed a network to share resources, with everyone playing a clearly defined role. He is also remembered as knowing how to get the most out of his workers. While his managerial style was sometimes criticized as heavyhanded, Alphonse Trezza was a man of clear vision and definite direction. In this new era, Trezza left his mark in many positive and far-sighted ways that shaped the direction of the library for years to come.660