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Aug 21

[ARCHIVED] Ernestine Gilliland (1922-2020): State Librarian of Kansas (1975-1981)

The original item was published from August 21, 2020 9:53 AM to September 8, 2020 9:57 AM

Ernestine Gilliland (1922-2020)
A Celebration of a Life in Three Parts


"The quality, not the longevity of one's life is what is important."
--Martin Luther King, Jr.

In this issue of the KGI Online Library Blog we celebrate Ernestine Gilliland, former State Librarian of Kansas, who achieved a life of both longevity and quality.

Three writers will present a view of Ernie's life and career in this Blog.

Her daughter, Louise Shorter, has written an "autobiography" giving us a personal look into Ernie's life. It is the primary story and can be found below.

Jeff Hixon, State Library of Kansas, sums up Ernie's life and accomplishments in a short bio which is linked to from this issue.

Also linked to from this issue is a piece by Bill Sowers, State Library of Kansas, which hones in on Ernie's accomplishments as State Librarian of Kansas.

After this Blog was published we received six articles clipped from the Hutchinson News about Ernie while she was director of the Hutchinson Public Library and the South Central Kansas Library System.  Those articles can be found HERE.

There is some repetition in these writings, but good things should often be said more than once!

A list of publications issued by the State Library of Kansas during Ernestine Gilliland's tenure as State Librarian, available at the KGI Online Library, can be found HERE.

Mom's Story
written for her by her daughter, Louise Shorter

Hello to all. If you’re reading my life reflections, I have passed on to another phase in my adventure. I was born to Hazel Caldwell and Frank Edward Shears on August 22, 1922 in Hutchinson, Kansas. I had a younger sister Jeannette Louise. Life was good- Dad was a brick layer and road constructor. Streets then were laid with brick. Mom was a Milner. I graduated from Hutchinson High School in 1940 where I played nearly every woodwind instrument in the concert and in the marching band. Athletics was good fun- G.A.A. had tennis and basketball. I represented HHS at state competitions. Mom sent me to a finishing school- Ward-Belmont, a Junior College, Preparatory School and Conservatory of Music for Young Women, in Nashville, Tennessee. A finishing school! We did wear gloves, hose, hats and were chaperoned. I can style and converse with the best! I also became an equestrienne- jumping and showing gaited horses, Tennessee Walkers and more. Fine Arts and sciences, literature and music performance were the curriculum: perfect for the Fine Arts Librarian I became in 1955. Outside activities were the Belmont Horse Race and the Grand Ole Opry. Pranks were had- we cut the pull rope for the Great Bell that that started our days. We did sneak out unchaperoned! I later graduated from K.U. with a biology degree in bacteriology. Charles Gilliland and I were married in December, 1946. We lived in Kansas City- Charles worked for a car dealer and I in a lab until 1949 when our daughter, Jeannette Louise was born in February, 1949. A son, Frank was born in February, 1950. Hutchinson was the gateway for my 40 career as a librarian. My Library degree is from Emporia State College.

I started in the Fine Art Department at Hutchinson Public Library in 1955. One of the programs I and Denny Stephens, the Head Librarian, developed was a lending library of original art purchased from local artists. An aside, my mother felt I was neglecting my children, but they were quite proud of me as a librarian and wailed that if I quit, “I would be nobody”. We had an adult friend/nanny in Ruth Sanders, the HPL Cataloger whose interests ranged from words (an originalist in word-a-day), astronomy, photography, camping plus owned a car that ‘never passed a DQ’. Hazel, my mom, was mollified. 

The library was only one focus: I led my daughter’s Girl Scout Troup, delighting in the skills they could learn from merit badges but also encouraging them to build displays for competitions at the Kansas State Fair. I sang in the choir, played and maintained the pipe organ at First Presbyterian. Our basement housed an enormous model train layout. One needs many passions to live fully! Charles, the kids and I built the trains, wired and sculpted the layouts. We lived in an age of opportunity.  We did photography. We built a dark room and started a lifelong interest for us all. I had an Exakta, Charles a Rolleiflex and Ruth a Hasselblad. The kids had Brownies. Kanopolis Reservoir was completed in 1948 as a flood control and water conservation project of the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Charles, my dad and I built a cabin. It was 50 miles north of Hutchinson, we had many midnight runs to save the dock and boat from various storms. We had a great inboard outboard we called the Queen. Keeping the boat running was a full-time operation- Frankie and Lou often spent afternoons in lifejackets, tethered to the dock while Charles, Dad and I worked on the motor. Charles and I built a wooden sailboat, a Sailfish. Lots of fun for us and the kids. Kanopolis is a big inland lake- we all became good sailors.

Gilliland Cosmosphere smaller

(Ernestine Gilliland, Denny Stevens, Patty Carey at Hutchinson Planetarium in early 1960s)


In 1961, we were part of Patty Carey’s opening of a city planetarium. She purchased the dome and star projection equipment from Oklahoma City.  In 1962, the Hutchinson Planetarium opened inside the Poultry Building on the Kansas State Fairgrounds with a used star projector and rented folding chairs. Charles, Ruth Sanders and I gave star talks. Ruth and I also donated part of our rock and mineral collection for some of the new displays. Four years later, the Hutchinson Planetarium relocated to the campus of Hutchinson Community College, in what today houses Dr. Goddard's Lab. It is now the Kansas Cosmosphere, an internationally recognized Space museum and Planetarium. At the Space Camp, students experience being junior astronauts through classes and simulators.


Back in my library world- In 1964, I was appointed head librarian of Hutchinson Public. During that time, Bill Sowers of the State Library of Kansas notes,
“As director at Hutchinson, Mrs. Gilliland oversaw the creation of a Talking Books (audio books for the Blind and Physically Handicapped) Collection within the library. Hutchinson Public Library surpassed library holdings of 100,000 volumes and experienced large increases in circulation of library materials. But chief among the accomplishments of the Hutchinson Public during Ernie's time there was the passage of a bond election in April, 1967, to finance a 20,000 square foot addition to the library.”

Librarians do politics: we won that large bond election, planned and promoted by me, my staff and the Library Board. Library services matter to the whole community. I loved encouraging the students who worked with me to fit their talents into the library jobs and love the field. One, Michaelyn Burnette, wrote my daughter recently, proudly tracing her path form school library volunteer to HPL employee (.50/hr.)
(aside- I had to convince the Library Board of my worth- they felt I didn’t need the head librarian’s salary as I had a husband!)

Miki wrote an impression of me that makes me smile,
”I certainly have vivid memories of your mom, especially driving what I believe was a bright red ‘Vette and also a pickup with the first camper I'd ever seen… she was just so very cool.  She always looked ready and able to handle anything that came her way.  I so admired her, the first person who went into my personal pantheon of great librarians”

(Her academic sign off impressed me: Distinguished Librarian, Librarian Emerita, University of California, Berkeley.)

Ernie Margaret smaller
(Ernie Gilliland and Margaret Gates)

From Bill Sowers:

“In 1965 Kansas created seven regional library systems. In 1967 the South Central Kansas Library System was officially established headquartered at the Hutchinson Public Library with Ernestine Gilliland as director of the regional system as well as the Hutchinson Public Library.  Along with this regional cooperative venture the statewide Kansas Information Circuit (KIC) was begun. As a member library in KIC the Hutchinson Public Library, along with five other large public libraries were to act as reference and resource centers for the smaller libraries within their designated areas. KIC would eventually develop into a statewide interlibrary library loan system.”

Ernie doing laundry in Merida smaller
(Washing laundry in Meriden, Mexico)

In 1968, I took a break. Margaret Gates and I lived in Merida, Mexico — on a rented space of beach — in a camper with a sail boat anchored in the bay. Charles flew in with beef tenderloin and a needed Zodiac.  

When I returned, I became State librarian in 1975. This was also a successful period for Kansas library growth.
Ernie 1972 smaler
(Ernie in Munich at the 1972 Olympics)

Bill Sowers:

“Ernie worked with her staff and others to improve library services at all levels in Kansas. Beyond cooperation/support of libraries and library systems all programs had to meet with the approval of the Legislature and Governor. A big part of this involved maintaining or increasing state government aid to libraries and library projects as well as aid from federal programs.  It was a time of great changes in libraries.  Many library services were being automated and programs for the underserved were being promoted. This all took detailed planning and economy in spending.

“These accomplishments continued throughout Ernie's tenure and most of them continue or have evolved into other programs in use throughout the state today.”

Gilliland pic 2 KLB V 36 no 1 Spring1967 smaller
(photo from Kansas Library Bulletin, Spring 1967)

Jeff Hixon of the State Library of Kansas put it well when speaking of Ernestine Gilliland:
"I started my first student library job when Ernie had been at the state library only a year. I was still new in my first professional job when she retired, and only met her 5 years later. Looking back on that short period, I am astonished at how completely Kansas libraries were transformed in those few years. Even living in the midst of the rapid change we take for granted these days, it seems an impressive revolution. If libraries today are prepared and eager to welcome this state of constant re-invention, it’s only because we’ve domesticated and embraced the frontier spirit of her inspirational, pioneering efforts."

Dream big!


I retired in 1981, when my second grandson, Mark was born. I lived between Manhattan, Kansas and Boulder ,Colorado until 2007 when I moved to Boulder permanently. Lou and I travelled with the boys to faraway places: Roatan, Honduras; the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, where they took over the cameras for a fantastic photographic record. Plus, many everyday adventures. Lou and I travelled through the Panama Canal and up the Amazon on the Semester at Sea College program during their semester breaks, photographing everything. I sent her on the ship when she was a junior at CU. We did it together all these years later.

There was more…master gardener, master carver of song birds…my life was full.

Whether the people you interact with are Girl Scouts, young astronomers, young employees, your children’s or grandchildren’s friends- you do guide them just through your being you. Kansas’s motto is “Ad Astra per Aspera”: To the Stars through Difficulties. My enthusiasm and joy for life beat the difficulties. I never watched who was watching me- just lived with gusto.

I used to laugh when returning from trips that I didn’t have a dime left in my pocket. That was true again for me on August 3, when I passed from this life. I lived well. Could have gone on a bit but my body was done. I have joined my son, who died in 1968 plus scores of friends and family. Take heart and Celebrate. See you on the other side.

Ernie Gilliland.


Recent photo of Ernestine Gilliland
(Ernestine “Ernie” Gilliland in Colorado, 2019.
Photo by Louise Shorter, courtesy Marlene Moormann)