Justin Potter Library has turned 50
In celebration of its half-century of service to this community, a special observance is planned for Sunday, September 24 from 2-4 p.m. and the public is invited to come and help commemorate the library’s golden anniversary.
“It’ll be kind of like an open house where people can come and reminisce. We’ll have photos and displays in the library. We want everyone to come and help us celebrate and share some of their memories about the library especially when they were children,” said Director Kathy Hendrixson.
Justin Potter Library opened in June 1967 followed by an official dedication and open house on September 17, 1967. It was named for the late Justin Potter, a DeKalb County native and successful Nashville businessman, whose family provided funds to help build the library through the Justin and Valere Potter Foundation.
For eleven years prior, the library was located in a room on the main floor of the Veterans Memorial building downtown.
While many shared in the dream of the community having a new library by 1967, Emma Brandon Burton, played an especially important role in helping make it happen. Mrs. Burton, who was instrumental in starting the first library in the county during the 1940s and was a founding member of the Smithville Study Club, procured a donation from the Potter Foundation to match funds from a federal building grant to build Justin Potter Library at its present location. Mrs. Burton also served on the DeKalb County Library Board from 1964 until 1990 and on the Upper Cumberland Regional Library Board from its founding in 1956 until 1981. She passed away in 1997.
A portrait of Mrs. Burton is displayed at the library in her memory. It was commissioned by the Smithville Study Club, and painted by a local artist at the time, Katherine Cudney.
As constructed in 1967, the library was 3,764 square feet and cost $100,000 which covered the purchase of the land as well as the building, initial furnishings, and equipment.
Due to a need for expansion, the county commission authorized a 2,000 square foot addition to the library in 2003. The project was supported with county funds and donations from the community. The facility, which was built to hold 10,000 volumes 50 years ago, now contains over 25,000 items today.
June Vaughn became the first director of Justin Potter Library in 1967 followed a year later by Idell Spann, until her retirement in 1991. Vaughn returned as director and served for 13 years. Kathy Winchester Vardy succeeded Vaughn in 2004 and Kathy Hendrixson took over from her in 2007.
Members of the DeKalb County Library Board in 1967 were W.R. Lassiter, Chairman; Emma Burton, Chairman of the Building Committee; Otha Dell Conger, Building Committee member; Nell McBride, Building Committee member; Bessie May White, Rosa John Twilla, and Janelle Pugh.
Current members of the board are: Jan Thomas, Board Chairman, and Genrose Davis, Annette Greek, Jane Hobson, Brenda Hooper, Betty Pankey, Jane Ramsey, Pam Redmon, and Bobby White.
“Justin Potter Library has come a long way in 50 years to establish itself as a “Hub” of the community, “ said Director Hendrixson. “Our vision is that all DeKalb County residents have the opportunities they need to improve the quality of their lives with a mission of providing quality materials and services that fulfill educational, informational, cultural, and recreational needs of the entire community in an atmosphere that is welcoming and respectful,” she said.
This past year almost 40,000 visits were made to the county libraries (Smithville and Alexandria combined) with 8,000 registered borrowers, 64,000 materials checked out, 112 programs hosted with attendance of more than 2,000, and 15,000 computer users including wireless.
“The library now offers books, videos and DVDs, music CDs, microfilm, audio books, magazines, and newspapers. The public has access to both computer and wireless Internet, fax, copy, scanning, and notary services. We offer Interlibrary Loans, TWRA boating exams, and tax and voter registration forms. Those who have a library card have access to over 100,000 free ebooks, audiobooks and streaming videos through the Regional Download System (READS) and there are 100’s of databases available through TEL (Tennessee Electronic Library). There are over 1,000 downloads a month using the READS program that count toward the library’s circulation. The library also offers AWE Early Literacy Computers for children ages 2-8 (English and Bilingual Spanish versions) with over 60 educational titles,” Hendrixson continued.
The library is also a good source for tracing your family history and other services.
“We have an extensive collection of county genealogy and history materials. County Historian Thomas G. Webb is at the library almost every day to assist you in searching your family history,” said Hendrixson.
“You can donate to the Memorial Fund and have a book dedicated in memory of a family member or friend”.
“The library hosts a variety of programs and events throughout the year including Older American’s Day, Summer Reading, holiday activities, community discussion groups, teen program and volunteer opportunities (Tennessee Promise), author book signings, homeschooling events, computer and art classes, and you can sign up children from birth for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. We have also been involved in Bookmobile and Outreach programs to the schools and have partnered with organizations for other events that have benefitted the community,” she said.
Hendrixson went on to say that DeKalb County residents are fortunate to have Justin Potter Library as well as the Alexandria Library, which was relocated to a renovated 3,500 square foot building on the Alexandria public square in 1996, and she gave credit to those who have helped make them successful.
“ Our accomplishments over the past 50 years would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of the DeKalb County Library Board, staff, volunteers, and the support of the Smithville Study Club, DeKalb County government, City of Smithville, state and federal governments the Potter Foundation, Regional Library Board, local organizations, and the community,” added Director Hendrixson.
The libraries in Dowelltown and Liberty were closed in 2005 and 2015 respectively.