The Sequatchie County Library in Dunlap opened its doors Sept. 24, 1959, with just 1,000 books, no telephone, and limited hours on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Locals say that one area politician scoffed at the need for a library and predicted no one would come; however, that is not how librarian Betty Worley remembers it.
"It was monumental the day the library opened," said Worley, who has served as librarian there for 51 years. She was a teenager and couldn’t wait to get her hands on Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 novel "Gone with the Wind," which is still her favorite book today.
"Back then, you didn’t have access to books if your parents couldn’t buy them," recalls the petite woman who, as a child, was known at school for always having a book in her hand. "That’s hard to think about now."
Today, the Sequatchie County Library owns 24,640 items, and 6,770 people own Sequatchie County library cards—47 percent of the county's population.
Worley’s family lived near the library, and from the start, she was a dedicated volunteer, working alongside and befriending the facility's first librarian, Wanda Long. When Long left the position in 1962, she recommended 19-year-old Worley.
Five decades into her role, Worley still finds joy in opening a box of new books to share with the community.
"There’s nothing like the smell of a new book," she said.
Despite her love for a book in hand, Worley has worked diligently through the years to transform technology and Internet access at the Sequatchie County Library. In many communities, public libraries are the only place where any person, regardless of education or skill level, can have access to information and the Internet free of charge, and Worley takes that to heart.
One of the Sequatchie County Library’s most significant technological leaps took place in 2000 through the assistance of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Libraries Initiative. The program was launched in December 1995 in partnership with the American Library Association to bring information technology and training to public libraries in urban and rural locations.
"Our library received a total of three computers and a printer, which created our card catalog and checkout system," Worley said. "Best of all, it also paid for training."
Today, the library features Wi-Fi, e-books and a computer room with nine monitors. In the past year, Worley said, nearly 5,000 people have used their computers.
"Not everyone can afford a computer, so it is important for us to be able to provide this service to the community," Worley said.
With no children of her own, Worley is devoted to the children of Sequatchie County and their love of reading. In 1963, when the library moved into its current location—a 1939 building in the heart of downtown Dunlap—she created a children’s room, and the next year, she launched a much-loved children’s summer reading program. In 2012, more than 200 children enrolled in the program, reading more than 5,000 books.
Worley has a simple philosophy about the important role of a library in the life of the community: "Libraries are important for education, from small children to the elderly." She is quick to acknowledge the support of the Sequatchie County Commission, which is the library’s main funding source, and the Friends of the Library, which raises funds to support the library through two annual book sales and events.
Quite obviously, the Sequatchie County Library has been Worley’s life’s work and passion, and she has no plans to retire.
"The years go by so fast, but people of Sequatchie County have always been readers," she said.
For more information about the Sequatchie County Library, visit their website.
Jenni Frankenberg Veal is a Chattanooga-based writer and naturalist who enjoys promoting the region's historical, cultural and natural assets through her work with the Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association. Visit her blog at www.YourOutdoorFamily.com.
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