“It is a sad commentary that a city of schools such as Murfreesboro, a city supposedly of education, knowledge, culture and breeding, should have no public library” began Rutherford Courier Editor, Robert Lasseter’s column on January 27, 1942. His efforts were instrumental in the creation of the library system that we know today. Henry T. Linebaugh, a Florida resident, and Murfreesboro native read the column and was inspired to make a $5,000 donation toward the creation of a public library in his hometown. His only stipulation was that it be named for his mother, Mattie V. Linebaugh. The Linebaugh Public Library was established in the winter of 1947 and formally opened on April 1, 1948, in the old Hale Home at Central Memorial Park with Myla Parsons as the librarian.
The library collection began with slightly over 6,000 volumes of materials from Rutherford County schools, some purchased items, books on loan from the regional library, a few donations, and a $50 per month budget for books. The circulation for 1948 was over 40,000 books, including distribution to the schools, deposit stations in outlying areas, and over 1,200 borrowers.
In May of 1950, the library received a bequest of approximately $30,000 from another Murfreesboro native, Emma Weitzel. This gift enabled the library to purchase the old Elk’s Club building on Spring Street, opening at this new location on September 9, 1953. By 1960, Linebaugh Library expanded to include a branch in Smyrna that was housed in two rooms of a local residence. It opened on October 17 with Jimmie Webster as the first librarian.
In less than ten years, Linebaugh had once more outgrown its existing location. During the summer of 1961, the General Services Administration (GSA) released the deed of the old Post Office building at 102 West College Street to Murfreesboro and Rutherford County governments to be handed over to the Linebaugh Library Board. In August 1962, the library opened on West College Street with a new librarian, Briley Adcock. It was here that the library card system with an individual card for each patron was established.
Over the next few years, both the Murfreesboro and Smyrna locations required larger facilities. A new structure was erected for Smyrna on Walnut Street adjacent to the local primary and middle schools opening on April 19, 1970. For Murfreesboro, an $81,000.00 addition to the Old Post Office building was constructed, and the new expansion was dedicated in April 1971. The new addition allowed the library to remain in the Old Post Office facility for an additional 15 years before the available space became insufficient. In 1987, plans began for a new building with the Christy-Houston Foundation giving the library a grant of 1.5 million dollars. The new location of Linebaugh Library at 105 West Vine Street in the Civic Plaza, a 34,000 sq. Ft. facility, was opened on June 15, 1992.
After more than 30 years of service, Mrs. Adcock retired in the winter of 1993, and Rita Shacklett stepped in as acting director. In the spring of 1995, the library hired a new director, Laurel Best. Also in 1995, the library implemented its first automated catalog system, E.L.L.I.S. (Electronic Linebaugh Library Information System).
The Smyrna branch opened in a new facility of 22,500 sq. Ft. on November 8, 1999. On November 23, 1999, the library system introduced its new computer catalog WebCat, a Sirsi Unicorn product, and several months later received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation providing public-use computers for Linebaugh and the Smyrna branch.
In July of 2003, the Friends of Linebaugh Library purchased a used Bookmobile from the State of Tennessee after the Highland Rim Regional Library lost funding for their program. Having had great success with the program, the Linebaugh Library Foundation bought a new Bookmobile in November of 2005 and commissioned the exterior graphics to be done by local artist Norris Hall, celebrating regional landmarks.
The library has experienced tremendous growth simultaneously with Rutherford County over the years. The budget, staff, and resources have multiplied many times over endeavoring to keep pace with the needs of the community. In ensuing years, new locations were added in Murfreesboro and Eagleville. The Myrtle Glanton Lord Library (MGL), located in the community center at Patterson Park and named for the longtime educator, opened as part of LPLS on December 1, 2004, and on January 1, 2006, the operation of the Eagleville Bicentennial Public Library was assumed by LPLS. In late 2005, library master facilities planners Dubberly Garcia Associates, Inc. implemented a planning study for the Linebaugh Public Library System. The result of this study, along with population growth projections, input from City and County government and community focus groups, helped determine that the library system needs to increase in size and locations to handle current demographic trends.
Linebaugh was named the public library recipient of the School Library Journal/Thomson Gale 2006 Giant Step Award for the most improved library in the nation and was given a $5,000 award.
Laurel Best left in June of 2008 to take a director’s position in Huntsville, Alabama. While the library board pursued a nationwide search for a replacement, Rita Shacklett filled in as the interim director. Ms. Shacklett was chosen in December 2008 to be the new director. She has served the library system since 1975 and had been the assistant director since 1985.
In 2017, a groundbreaking was held for the Technology Engagement Center (TEC), which would be one of the first “bookless” libraries in Tennessee. The TEC would service the needs of individuals and families who do not have internet access in their homes, as well as provide meeting space for individuals and businesses.
To better reflect the growth and changing services of our libraries, the Library Board voted in October 2017 to change the name of Linebaugh Public Library System to Rutherford County Library System.
RCLS Director Rita Shacklett and Rutherford County Archivist John Lodl began talking about combining the Linebaugh Historical Research Room and the Archive almost fifteen years before it became a real possibility. When Murfreesboro’s new judicial building was constructed, the archive was enlarged to provide space for additional records. That expansion created enough room to accommodate the library’s historical collection. In August 2021, the library’s newest branch, the Historical Research Center (HRC), opened at the Archives. Longtime Linebaugh employee Lisa Ramsay moved to the HRC to supervise the collection, followed by Kayla Howard in July 2023 after Lisa’s retirement.
After 75 years of providing service, the library has undoubtedly exceeded the dreams of Robert Lasseter. His belief that “books are the route to knowledge” helped ignite the community interest in a public library, and the Rutherford County Library System will continue striving to meet the challenge of providing ever evolving free resources for the citizens of Murfreesboro and Rutherford County.