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TL v59n2: History of the Lebanon-Wilson County Public Library
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Tennessee Libraries 

Volume 59 Number 2



 Lebanon-Wilson County Public Library


Alesia Burnley, Director


On February 14, 1938, a board appointed by the library committee of the Business & Professional Women’s Club of Lebanon met for the first time for organizational purposes.  This first board included Mrs. Julius Jacobs, chairman, Col. Harry Armstrong, vice-chairman, Mildred Hearn, secretary and treasurer, Eugene Sloan, Dr. O. Reed Hill, Mrs. M. S. Howard, Prof. Will D. Young, Kerley Wilson, J. F. Ricketts, Homer Hancock, R. R. Rummage, J. W. Cragwall, John Rich Thomas, Mrs. Henry Waters, C. H. Ligon, and E. W. Weatherly.

Dr. Hill was appointed to draw up a constitution and by-laws for the board and was assisted by Mrs. Howard and Mr. Wilson.  It was voted that the library be called “The Wilson County Library.”  Each board member pledged to raise $30 to match state funds with application being made by March 1, 1938, for $450.  These 16 original board members provided the “seed money” for a library maintained currently by annual appropriation from government agencies.  A committee was appointed to appear before the County Court to ask for appropriations.

By May books were arriving and were stored over Jacobs Department Store until a building became available.  Josephine Wright was the first librarian, beginning her duties August 1, 1938, at a salary of $50 a month.  Furniture and books were donated and on September 5, 1938, the doors were officially opened.  The members of the Business & Professional Women’s Club who had been the driving force of this endeavor were appointed as the committee for the opening ceremonies.

One year later the library had a collection of over 2,000 titles, many of which had been donated from private libraries.  At this time the librarian resigned and Mrs. Elizabeth Donnell was her temporary successor.  The book budget was $200, matched with funds from the state.  That the library was indeed meeting a need was evidenced by the registration of 203 children, 533 adults, and 50 teachers, the ratio being one-third county residents and two-thirds city residents.

As the year 1939-40 began the board contacted each member of the county court and city council to ask support for appropriations.  Martha Warren was appointed librarian.

After temporary housing in WPA office facilities on South Greenwood Street, the library was moved to the former Edgar Green house on College Street, which the board had purchased and then sold to the City of Lebanon with a stipulation that the City lease the second floor for the library, the first floor being used for a club and community house.  Joe Hatfield, chairman, appointed a committee to work with the schools to solicit contributions of ten cents from each pupil.  (This program had been required by the State Department of Education.)  The board asked that this money be spent for library books to be placed at a central distribution center for teachers and pupils.

Funding was still a major problem, and the County Court was approached by members of the Home Demonstration Clubs.  This concerned group of ladies began support at this time which continued until 1987.  Efforts were being made to involve the library in the WPA Library Service but the low book stock disqualified it at that time.  The service did offer to provide a part-time helper, Bess Elam, and to give assistance to the librarian as needed.

In 1941 branch libraries began to be considered with the first established at Statesville in the Home Demonstration clubhouse.  Books were circulated from both buildings, and other Home Demonstration clubs donated books to the Statesville branch.

Upon Miss Warren’s resignation, Helen Hayes Eatherly replaced her.  Her first report showed a quarter’s circulation of 2,469 books.  About 25 percent of these were checked out by teachers to take to school children.  At this time the schools did not provide supplemental reading materials and the library worked through the state and concerned teachers to see that students were provided with books.

The Second World War brought changes in the library.  Mrs. Eatherly resigned to join her husband, who was in the Army, and Geraldine Eskew replaced her.  Also, board members Vincent Simms and R. S. Burton resigned to go into the Armed Forces.  The Second Army maneuvers brought an influx of soldiers and their families, and the board adopted a policy of issuing library cards to them.

In 1946 Mrs. Willie Boyd was appointed librarian.  That year Prof. Eugene Sloan, representative of the State Library Service and Regional Library Program, spoke to the board about state participation at the local level.  The next year the Regional Library Service was involved in circulating books to the library as well as working throughout the county at schools and deposit stations.  In June, 1948, the first bookmobile was placed on the Public Square in Lebanon, and later at the Wilson County Fair with the regional librarian present to promote library programs.  Two years afterward eleven bookmobile stations were in service.  The Regional Library Service was removed for a period of time, due to a lack of qualifying local appropriations.  As soon as these matching funds were met, the Service again became and still is a vital part of the county library system.

In 1952 the board petitioned Mayor William D. Baird for the city’s permission to sell the Community Club House so a better location could be found.  After considering several possibilities, the library was moved to the Veterans Memorial Home on West Main Street.

This building, an imposing nineteenth century mansion, was shared with the American Red Cross and the American Legion.  Three downstairs rooms were assigned the library, and the Lebanon Junior Woman’s Club created an attractive children’s area.

Eventually it was decided to build a permanent library building.  The board asked the Regional staff to make an inventory and assist in planning.  Mayor Charles D. Loyd of Lebanon and County Judge Turner S. Evans were approached.  A town lot on the corner of West Main Street and Hatton Avenue had been willed to the City of Lebanon by Mrs. Mary Harkreader Carson Shipp.  It had been her hope that a library could be located there.  The county appropriated $20,000 and the city $10,000 and again the Regional staff assisted the board and architect with floor plans and layouts.  Additional funds were necessary; these were subsequently provided by additional local government funding, and donations of furnishings by civic clubs and businesses.  A building of 3,200 square feet was erected.  Kathryn McClain Leathers was chairperson and officially opened the new library on January 31, 1965.  Clara M. Layne, who had replaced Mrs. Boyd in 1960, was librarian at this time.  Her assistant from 1969 to 1980 was Sue Vaughter Copeland.  As circulation increased, it had become necessary to add a full-time assistant.

In 1983, an expansion of 2,500 square feet, making the Lebanon-Wilson County Library an L-shaped building, was made available through county and state appropriations.  The City of Lebanon provided new carpet as the original building was renovated.  This building was also made possible through advice and man-hours of the Regional Library staff.

Mary Birchett Williams was appointed librarian at the Lebanon-Wilson County Library in 1984, with Alice T. Green as assistant.  As circulation increased to over 9,000 books per month another full-time employee, Ann Kirby, was employed in 1987.   Another addition was made to the building in 1991. 

Betty Jo Dedman was appointed Library Director in December, 1996.  During Mrs. Dedman’s tenure as Director, the library became fully automated, Internet access was offered to the public and the total circulation was doubled.  On December 9, 2005, the Wilson County Library Board dedicated a new addition to the Lebanon-Wilson County Library.  Adding an additional 6,000 square feet, the new addition is designated as the Children’s Area.

In 2007 the present Library Director is Alesia Burnley and Danielle Floyd is the Deputy Director.  The library now has an annual circulation over 260,000 items and has 6 full-time and 8 part-time employees.  The present Board Members are Bettye Stone, Chair, William Taylor, Vice Chair, Dr. Connie Wright, Treasurer, Diane Weathers, Secretary, George Harding, Kevin Huddleston, Carolyn Miller, Jim Mills and Peggy Simpson.

Watertown-Wilson County Public Library

In May 1969, the Wilson County Library Board signed a contract with the City of Watertown for quarters to house a branch library.  The city also agreed to give $100 a year for books.  The basic collection was furnished by the Highland Rim Regional Library Center.  The first librarian at Watertown was Joyce Robinson.  She has been followed by Mattie Ann Rickets, Dorothy Hardcastle, Erline McEachern, Pauline Armstrong and now by Shirley Wyatt. 

The University Medical Center gave a building on the Public Square for a permanent site in 1983.  Matching funds from the state added to those provided by the county enabled the board to remodel and equip a building of 1,520 square feet.  In 2002, the library will double in size due to remodeling of the adjacent building.  As the appropriations increased and many additional services were provided by the Regional Library, this branch is now serving the public twenty-nine hours a week.  They are now fully automated and have internet connection for the public.

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