Bartlett’s thrifty librarians and volunteers cared for city’s new library

The modern Bartlett Branch Library is at 6398 Stage Road, Bartlett.
The modern Bartlett Branch Library is at 6398 Stage Road, Bartlett.

Editor’s note: This series will run weekly throughout 2016 to highlight Bartlett’s history in honor of its 150th anniversary this year. This is the third in a group of articles about the Bartlett Library.

The beautiful new Bartlett Branch Library at 6398 Stage Road opened in 1980, but with the continued rapid growth of Bartlett the funding did not cover the costs. Volunteer help from the Friends of the Library and other organizations eased the shortage of personnel. In 1982 the Shelby County Library Administration asked the Bartlett Board of Mayor and Aldermen to fund two additional positions — a librarian and full-time clerk — so the library could increase its operating time to 60 hours a week.

There were also discussions at Shelby County Commission meetings that with growth of the suburban cities they should be operating their libraries.

Research for this article didn’t turn up any comprehensive list of Bartlett librarians. The librarians named up to this point were from newspaper articles and do not note the beginning and end of their tenure. In 1988 Catherine Nathan became the new head librarian. While in Bartlett Ms. Nathan became involved in civic organizations and events in the community, and served here until 1994. As always, there were more needs in the library than funds to provide for them. She was a part of a Bartlett city library task force that was assigned the responsibility of trying to find ways to help the library meet some of its needs without large additional expenditures. One of the ideas put into action was a group of volunteers to assist with re-shelving books and other tasks, thus diminishing the need for hiring additional personnel, which worked very well for a while.

In 1994 Ms. Nathan resigned and Ms. Heather Tankersley became the head librarian. Three months after taking over the library, Ms. Tankersley went before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen requesting $98,000 for the library, almost five times the $20,000 the city provided the previous year, citing a 47 percent increase in visitors to the Bartlett branch in the past three years and an 86 percent increase in books checked out. She said they were circulating 400,000 books a year, or 33,000 a month and 1,400 books a day. They also had about 745 users a day, or 81 users an hour coming into the library. The Bartlett Branch Library had a total budget of $433,985 that year and was continually one of the highest use branches in the library system.

In an interview with Mr. Jay Rainey, who was Chief Administrative Officer of the City of Bartlett during Mayor Ken Fulmar’s term (1998-2002) and into Mayor Keith McDonald’s first term of office, he said when he came on the job there were some unwritten plans that a new, larger library was needed, probably out by the Bartlett Performing Arts and Conference Center; at the same time, the city could move some of the city services into the existing library building next door to City Hall. Then, a year or two later, representatives from Bartlett Baptist Church decided to sell their church property on Stage Road and build a new church on Kirby Whitten Road at Yale Road. The city considered buying it to put a library there along with a municipal center but felt the church’s asking price was more than the city could afford at that time. During Mayor McDonald’s first term, the Baptist Church came back again with a better price and sealed the deal with the approval of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. In 1999 Ms. Tankersley left the Bartlett Branch and Ms. Gay Abadie Cain became the new head librarian.

While the above events were going on in Bartlett, the Shelby County Mayor and Board of Commissioners decided the suburban cities should be responsible for operating their libraries. They were given the choice of staying with the library system and paying their expenses or creating their own system. The County owned all the buildings in the suburbs and gave them to each city government. Bartlett chose to stay with what now is the Memphis Public Library system, and the other suburban cities created their own self-contained systems. The agreement was Bartlett would stock the books and pay operating expenses, and the city would also reimburse Memphis to hire employees, manage the library and pay a certain amount annually to compensate a share of the main library office’s expense. In talking with Ms. Cain she commended Mr. Rainey on his work navigating through this process and for speaking with many residents about what they wanted for their library. Both Mr. Rainey and Ms. Cain were in favor of staying with the Memphis system as now Bartlett residents have access to the resources in libraries throughout the city, as well as their computers, online databases and electronic resources.

Coming to the Bartlett Library in 1999, Ms. Gay Cain guided the Bartlett Library through the many changes and then in 2008 moved into the new library building at 5884 Stage Road, adjacent to the Bartlett Station Municipal Center. The new library is almost double the size of the old one, has modern up-to-date computer systems and has more book shelves to hold as many as 150 volumes. Bartlett residents continue to use the library facilities in record numbers, and it has the highest circulation numbers in the system. In the first three quarters of the 2015-2016 fiscal year, circulation was 203,192 items, computers were used 32,434 times and the customer count was 135,739.

In 2015 Ms. Cain was promoted to Northeast Regional Manager and Mr. Eldon (Chip) Holliday is now the head librarian. In an increasing technical world, Bartlett residents still see the library as a place to go for research, information and

(Next week: The Friends of the Library)

Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, special to the Express.