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TL v59n1: History of the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library, Collierville, TN
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 1



 History of the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library, Collierville, TN


Deanna Britton, Director


"Collierville is finely situated among the vine clad hills and fertile valleys of West Tennessee, on what is conceded to be the highest point in Shelby County. The irregularity of the site gives it an element of picturesque beauty. To the south and east are hills covered with gigantic trees and lovely foliage, on the north side, the fertile valley of Wolf River.”    -- Excerpt from an essay written by Miss Rosebud Moss, 1882 (1)



The Town of Collierville, located thirty miles east of downtown Memphis, has had a rich history as the second oldest town in Shelby County.  Preserved Victorian homes, a tree lined park in the center of the downtown business district, and summer concerts under the gazebo on warm summer nights remain as a gentle nod to the past.  Reverence for the value of citizen involvement in schools, institutions, and the community as a whole has always been the compass citizens used to move Collierville forward from bucolic farming town to flourishing suburban community.  These same values have also been instrumental in shaping the development of the Town’s public library.

For many years in the rural areas of Shelby County, there was little or no library service.  But in 1931 a great step forward was taken when the Memphis and Shelby County Public Library bookmobile came into existence (2). “It was a great thrill for children and adults in the rural area throughout the county when they saw the “library on wheels” coming. The new bookmobile stopped at the Collierville Town square where card tables were set out to serve as the counters for checking books in and out” (3). This service continued almost twenty years until being discontinued in the early 1950’s.  Afterward, the Collierville community was not serviced in any way by the Memphis and Shelby County Library System until 1956 (4).

Origins with the Contemporary Club

“The General Federation of Women's Clubs began as an international women's organization dedicated to community improvement by enhancing the lives of others through volunteer service. Its roots can be traced back to 1868 when Jane Cunningham Croly (1829-1901), a professional New York journalist who wrote under the pen name of Jennie June, attempted to attend a dinner at an all-male press club honoring British novelist Charles Dickens. Croly was denied admittance based upon her gender, and, in response, she formed a club for women” (5).  Some of the organizations early accomplishments included reform of child labor law; improvement of the juvenile court system; passage of the Pure Food and Drug act; support of the eight-hour work day, workplace safety, prison reform; and improved health care and education on Native American reservations.  “In the 1930’s, having founded over 474 free public libraries and 4,655 traveling libraries, women's clubs were credited by the American Library Association with establishing 75 percent of America's public libraries. Supporting local libraries continues to be a Federation priority today”(6).  

Collierville had a strong history of Federated Women’s Clubs going back to the early 1930’s.  “The Contemporary Club was the first to organize on April 14, 1936 with the objective to promote and encourage studying and reading” (7).  After bookmobile service ceased, the Contemporary Club became deeply concerned about the lack of library resources and realized that something needed to be done. “Mrs. C. H. Harrell, who was president of the Contemporary Club at the time, appointed a library committee to study the issue. Members of the newly formed committee were: Mrs. J. Karr Hinton, Mrs. O.C. Dean, and Mrs. M.K. Mann, Sr.

Figure 1.   Collierville’s  first library located on North Rowlett Street.   Mrs. James Cowan, librarian, is pictured in the Town’s library.  Cowan served as librarian for 17 years.

The first public library was opened in Collierville on March 5, 1956 (8). 

The first library building, on the corner of North Rowlett and Walnut Steets, was a "concrete block stucco building that had once been a restaurant."  Most of the shelving that held the intial three thousand books was made by Mr. John Little Dean, who served as a rural mail carrier at the Collierville Post Office. The remodeling of the building was done by the Contemporary Club and other civic groups of the Town. The Library was opened two days each week: on Mondays from two until six p.m. and Fridays from two until nine p.m (9). Mrs. James Cowan served as librarian for seventeen years before retiring in 1973 (10).

Also, the Memphis Public Libraries purchased 3,000 books to the new library.  This was a tremendous project undertaken by the Contemporary Club (which won first place in the State of Tennessee Community Improvement Contest for the project) and no greater contribution could have been made to a community from which all citizens would benefit (11). The strong tradition of involvement by the Contemporary Club continues today, as every member is also a member of the Friends of the Library.

The Need for Expansion

The town had been experiencing steady growth in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and the library was quickly reaching capacity. In 1964, the Shelby County Commissioners substantially increased the amount allowed in the budget for library operations. On July 15, 1964, the Collierville Library Association, composed of various organizations within the Town of Collierville, met to discuss the need for library expansion. Through the leadership of the Library Association, Collierville received a new library, one of the first ones constructed in the county. During the construction of the building, library service was moved into temporary quarters (a private home purchased by the Town) directly behind the library site. On Sunday, December 5, 1965, the dedication and open house was held for the new facility.

Figure 2.  Collierville Library and its first Community Center, dedicated Dec. 5, 1965.              

The Town of Collierville purchased the library site and deeded only the land to Shelby County. Then, the library joined the Memphis-Shelby County Library System. At the same time, the Collierville Library Association merged with the Friends of Shelby County Libraries.  A Memphis architectural firm, Dean Hill and Associates was responsible for the design of the library. It contained 3,200 square feet with a book capacity of 20,000 volumes and a seating capacity of forty-two. Library operation increased to six days a week.   Mrs. James Cowan was the only local person to serve as librarian during this time.  After her retirement, the Memphis-Shelby County Library System was responsible for staffing the library.

The Friends of the Collierville Library Spur a Second Expansion

The first “Friends of the Library” was organized for the Collierville Library in 1971. This organization was composed of representatives from various civic clubs in Collierville.   “Early leadership was provided by Louise Ward, Mary Mueller, and Norma Hutton who served as treasurer for many years.  Other members included Elizabeth Kelsey, Virginia Carrington, Grace Ward Jamison, Anne Babin, Thelma Dean, Eleanor Gibbons, Kate Pickney, Juanita Fant and others” (12).  In 1996, The Friends organization opened its membership to the public.

It was through the Friends group that the need was seen for yet another expansion of the library. In the spring of 1983, grant monies were made available through the State of Tennessee under the auspices of the Federal Jobs Building Fund program. As announced in the Collierville Herald Newspaper on January 19, 1984, by Director Robert Croneberger, of the Memphis Shelby County Library, the “Collierville Library received a state grant of $376,000 for an expansion program at its present site” (13). Unfortunately, soon after that date, a disagreement arose concerning funding. Once again the Town came to the rescue of the Collierville Library, contributing monies and purchasing the land needed for expansion. Finally, construction began in August, 1986, for a 3,318 square foot addition that expanded the square footage from 3,200 to 6,518 square feet and increased the seating capacity from forty-two to fifty-four. The library exterior was remodeled and a new emblem sign was erected, the first of its kind in the county. The addition was completed in January, 1987, four years after its conception by the Memphis architectural firm of Mahan and Shappley.

Building and Naming the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library

In the late 1990’s, both a lack of space for a growing collection and a lack of parking space for patrons prompted the discussion for a new library facility. Collierville resident and developer David Halle, who had been instrumental in the redevelopment of Overton Square in Memphis, approached the Town of Collierville with the idea of the Halle family donating the land for a new library facility.  In addition, Mr. Halle approached Ms. Elsie C. Burch about the possibility of honoring her late husband, Lucius E. Burch, Jr. with a pledge to the library.  Lucius E. Burch, Jr. (1912-1996), was an attorney, conservationist and civil rights advocate who had lived in Collierville and practiced law in Memphis with the firm of Burch, Porter & Johnson.  “Mr. Burch was descended from a long line of distinguished people, including the founder of Nashville (John Donelson) and two early presidents (James K. Polk and Andrew Jackson).  He was the author of numerous articles on hunting, fishing, aviation, undersea exploration, civic affairs, politics and gerontology.  He piloted a single-engine plane around the country and into Latin America and the Caribbean in pursuit of hunting, fishing, scuba-diving, hiking, and camping opportunities and survived a number of serious crashes. A lifelong Democrat, he became one of the most active trial lawyers of his time.  He represented Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a successful attempt to lift an injunction prohibiting a march in Memphis concerning the Memphis Sanitation Strike just prior to Mr. King’s assassination (14).

Ultimately, the David Halle family donated 5 park-like acres of land located at the northern end of Poplar View Parkway for the site of the new library. Mrs. Burch donated $575,000.  The six million dollar facility was built with combined funding from the Burch Family estate, the Town of Collierville and the Shelby County Government. It was designed by Michael Walker, an Architect with Fleming Associates located in Memphis, TN. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on January 6, 2000. The new Library included not only expanded space for materials, but also a drive-up book drop, 26 multi-function public access computers, a quiet adult reading room, individual group study rooms, meeting space, a children’s room for story time, and room for potential expansion. The Grand Opening Ceremony was held on March 3, 2001.

After the Collierville Burch Library opened the doors of its new facility, Southern Living magazine approached Collierville Mayor Linda Kerley to help with the “Southern Living Idea House” in Collierville. Historically, a charitable organization is chosen to share in the both the work and proceeds of the show. Mayor Kerley approached the Collierville Burch Library Friends group for volunteers and chose the Library as the organization that would benefit by a portion of the Idea House ticket proceeds. The Friends raised approximately $25,000. This money was used to purchase needed Library materials.

County Funding Cuts Bring Privatization

In 2004, the Shelby County Government was facing fiscal difficulties and since it had no legal requirement to fund the library system, it took action to withdraw $2 million in support of suburban library operations. Around this time period, “the Memphis City Council passed a resolution that prohibited cities that hired private management companies and operated independently of the Memphis system from being allowed to share books and use other services within their library network . . .” (15).  The Town of Collierville considered options to keep the public library open, including turning the library over to a private company, contracting with the Memphis Public Library and Information Center for its operation, or running the library on its own.   On October 11, 2004, the Town of Collierville accepted responsibility for financing and operating its library. From that date, the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library has been fully owned and operated by the Town of Collierville. In conjunction with this decision, the Town subcontracted day-to-day management of the library to a private company, Library Systems and Services, LLC, located in Germantown, Maryland.

Until 2004, Collierville was a branch of the single county metropolitan library system known as The Memphis and Shelby County Public Library and Information Center.  Leaving the urban system and not being allowed to join a regional library system meant a loss of many forms of state funded support including: provision of supplementary library materials, continuing education for staff, and assistance related to library development, technology, and outreach services to the disadvantaged.  Instead, the Burch Library joined the newly formed Wolf River Library Consortium (WRLC) in 2005, which consisted of three other former Memphis and Shelby County system libraries.  As a consortium the libraries shared the same ILS system, provided their patrons with intra-library services through a courier, and purchased some online electronic resources. Staff members from these libraries began meeting monthly to share information and discuss topics of interest.  

Policies and procedures for the Burch Library have been developed by LSSI staff and approved by the Collierville Public Library Board, composed of seven citizens appointed by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.

Moving Forward

Since 2004, the library has enjoyed many changes and successes.  The collection size has grown from 79,000 to 100,000, which reflects a complete inventory and the weeding of over 31,000 items that were out-of-date, in poor physical condition, in old formats, or out-of scope according to the new collection development policy. Many approval plans and standing orders were placed with various vendors to meet the demand for high-circulating or popular materials in all formats.  The entertainment DVD collection was expanded to include many classics and all available Academy Award winning titles.


Figure 3.  The Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library, 2006.

Library hours of operation were increased from 52 to 60 hours per week, as well as being open 7 days per week with extended weekday hours.  A new Magazine Reading Room was made possible by a generous donation from the Collierville Rotary Club.  The Children’s area was redecorated to promote more reading and exploration.  A Young Adult area was carved out of existing space complete with new furniture and increased shelving.   Friends of the Collierville Burch Library, which is 200 plus members strong, opened a used bookstore in the library in 2007.  The increased revenue from this successful bookstore has enabled the library to purchase needed furniture, laptops for instruction, materials, and increased funding for professional travel, just to name a few improvements.  Sixteen hundred linear feet of shelving was added to the library in 2008 to allow for a total of 14,000 new items.  

Advances in technology include the provision of twenty-eight new public computers, a computer management system from EnvisionWare that provides equitable access to over 55,000 people per year, 3M Self-Check System, a conference room with projector and SmartBoard technology, 42” LCD screen providing both service and program announcements, wireless Internet access, and a state-of-the-art website launched in 2009.   A Library Services and Technology Act grant from the State of Tennessee was received in 2006 to purchase computer equipment for the visually impaired.   Recently, twenty-four hour, web-based customer relationship management software system was launched to provide patrons with one day turn around feedback to their library related questions or concerns. This new system is part of the Town’s Mayors Action Center initiative.

The Burch Library provides children’s programming five days per week and offers the popular twelve-week Babygarten curriculum for children up to 18 months old, and hosts various special programs including Paws for Reading every year. In addition, a successful Summer Reading program reaches thousands of children and young adults throughout the community. A Teen Advisory Board consisting of 20 members meets monthly and the library offers a popular Anime Club.  Both of these groups have created pages on the social network Facebook. 

An adult book club meets monthly and adult programming numbers continue to reach new highs.  Additional adult services include a “Meet the Artist” program which promotes the work of local artists and has allowed the library to add over 34 original works of art to its collection.  The Burch Library has hosted special programs for adults including a “Government Day” which provided residents an opportunity to meet one-on-one with their local officials and representatives.  In 2009, a traveling Smithsonian exhibit, entitled “The White House Garden” was sponsored by the library and funded in collaboration with the Town of Collierville, the Friends of the Collierville Burch Library, and the Federal Express.   Also, the library has provided a continuing education workshop through the Shelby County Board of Education for Collierville High School teachers.  The topic of this special program was the library’s electronic resources. Also in 2009, the library offered a parenting workshop on the topic of appropriate behavior for the young child with local school principals, day care directors, and Shelby County education professionals.      

Customer service has been enhanced through the self-check machine which has allowed the customer to pick up their own request for materials without waiting.  Books and other materials are promoted through many forms of display as the library has made an effort to learn from the retail environment how best to promote its collection.   The library’s meeting room and study rooms are used by large numbers of individual and community groups. Over 7,000 volunteer hours are given each year by local residents. 


As the Burch Library reaches its fifty-fifth year of operation, other enhancements will continue to be implemented as technology expands in the future.  Staff positions will continue to evolve as they move from traditional roles to customer service representatives.  The library environment will continue to move toward the bookstore model for collections and services.  Only one constant is certain: the Lucius E. and Elsie C. Burch, Jr. Library will continue to reflect Collierville’s strong tradition of community involvement for its continued success in the future.


1. Russell, Clarene Pinkston. (1994). Collierville,Tennessee: Her People and Neighbors. Collierville, TN:   The Town of Collierville and the Collierville Chamber of Commerce.

2. Memphis Public Library & Information Center Library System History.  Retrieved June 9, 2009, from

3. Janette Vaught (personal communication, 2005)

4. Betty Only (personal communication, 2005)

5. General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Retrieved June 18, 2009, from

6. Ibid.

7. Russell, Clarene Pinkston. (1994). Collierville, Tennessee: Her People and Neighbors. Collierville, TN: The Town of Collierville and the Collierville Chamber of Commerce.

8. Ibid.

9. Anne Babin (personal communication, 2005)

10. Russell, Clarene Pinkston. (1994). Collierville, Tennessee: Her People and Neighbors. Collierville, TN: The Town of Collierville and the Collierville Chamber of Commerce.

11. Ibid.

12. Friends of the Collierville Burch Library.  History of the Collierville Friends.  Retrieved June 9, 2009 from

13. Library Gets $376,000 Grant. (1984, January, 19).  The Collierville Herald, p. 1.

14. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture.  Retrieved June 15, 2009 from

15. Editorial. (2004, July 8). Library Funding Cuts Call for Cooperation. The Commercial Appeal. Retrieved June 17, 2009, from


Figure 1.  Main Street Collierville. (2006). Images of America: Collierville. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing.

Figure 2.  Russell, Clarene Pinkston. (1994). Collierville, Tennessee: Her People and Neighbors. Collierville, TN: The Town of Collierville and the Collierville Chamber of Commerce.

Figure 3.  Britton, Deanna. (2006).

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