Librarian Reflects On Decades Of Transformation - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Librarian Reflects On Decades Of Transformation

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by Adam Ghassemi

PORTLAND, Tenn. It looks like any other library until you realize how far it's come. A lot of that has to do with, Barbara Russell, who just wrapped up a 33-year career at the Portland Public Library last Friday.

In 1980, Portland's library was one-room, had no telephone and leaked every time it rained.

"I'm going 'what have I done'," said she jokingly about the way she felt when first seeing it.

However, Russell knew change was on the way. Soon, she grew the book selection from a few western, romance and mystery novels into a full collection. Even as card catalogs made way for computers, it became obvious what kept her there had nothing do with what was on the shelves.

"After I got the job I realized it's not the books, it's the people," she said Tuesday.

Expansions over the years have grown the library into its nearly 20,000 sq. ft. footprint, which serves 50,000 people a year.

With no museum in town, the library has also taken on that role. It's filled with local history including relics from the Civil War to items from a local NASA employee that have been to outer space.

"This flag was carried to the moon by the Apollo 17 crew," she said while showing off the collection.

That's why the new library manager, Debra Elledge, who started as a volunteer 19-years ago, knows she has big shoes to fill.

"She's accomplished so much and I don't think I could top it in my tenure. I hope to maintain it and grow," Elledge said.

She and others are hosting a ceremony for Russell on Sunday afternoon to say goodbye to a woman who has helped nurture Portland's access to books for decades.

"I fell into a job that I loved and it's been a labor of love for me all these years," Russell said.

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