The librarian at the Guntersville Public Library for the last 10 years, Beth Wheeler Dean has retired. But she’s not going far and she still hopes to be involved in the library somewhat. She’s fallen in love with Guntersville and considers it home nowadays.
“I will go from being a library employee to being a library volunteer,” Wheeler said. “More importantly, I will be a library advocate.”
She worked for the Huntsville Public Library for 20 years before coming to Guntersville in August 2008 to become the librarian here.
“I opened a lot of things in Huntsville,” she said.
The Huntsville Library started branch libraries in areas around the town. Dean opened one of the branches and was the sole employee there in a primarily African American community. She has fond memories of the friends she made there. Lots of children would spend every afternoon after school at the branch library which is exactly what Dean wanted.
“It’s still open today,” Dean said. “All 3 branch libraries that we started are still open.”
Dean grew up in Cleveland, Mississippi, and worked at the library there after her divorce. She’d been going to that library since she was a little girl. The librarian there, LePoint Smith, encouraged her to go the University of Alabama and get a master’s degree in library science, which she did.
“LePoint had such an influence on me,” Dean said. “A lot of things I’ve done as a librarian go back to things I learned from her. She was an advocate for libraries.”
Libraries today are about much more than books and they continue to evolve, Dean said.
Guntersville has an online library where people can “check out” books to read on their electronic devices without ever leaving home. The library offers audio books, Internet access and more.
“Meeting space is a big thing we do,” Dean said. “We have meeting space and a number of groups meet here.”
She said lots of people come to the library just to use the free Internet and they end up becoming friends.
“We’ve had people come in and use the Internet to apply for jobs,” Dean said. “Then they finally say, ‘I got a job’ and we celebrate with them.”
She said part of the job of being a librarian is “learning to listen.” Listening not only helps them make friends in the community, but it also helps them to expand the library’s services to include new things people want.
“They’ll tell you what they want,” Dean said. “You just have to listen.”
Having a vibrant library is a quality of life indicator and it plays into community development, Dean said.
As she closed out her chapter as the Guntersville librarian, she said she feels she has accomplished what she hoped to accomplish.
She also praised city leadership for allowing them to hire good, strong assistant librarians who worked on their master’s degrees while working at the library.
“We had 3 librarians on staff with master’s in library science,” Dean said. “That’s kind of unheard of for a library our size.”
And one of those, Mandy Broadhurst, is now the new head librarian.