Rita Shacklett Retires as Long-Time Head of County Library System

Rita Shacklett

Rita Shacklett has been an advocate for reading and a library leader through the massive growth of what is now called the Rutherford County Library System (RCLS) for 48 years. She started as a library clerk in 1975 and spent the last 15 years as the system’s director. She retired at the end of February 2024. 

“It’s with mixed emotions that I make this decision, but it’s time to turn the reins over to someone else to take RCLS into the future,” Shacklett said in the news release.

When Shacklett began working at the library, it was housed in the building that is currently the Center for the Arts (CFTA) on the corner of College and Church streets. At that time, there were two branches, one in Murfreesboro and one in Smyrna that had opened in a new building in 1970.

Despite an addition to the College Street location in 1971, growth caused the need for a new building. Plans for the new building on the Civic Plaza began in 1987, however, the 34,000 square-foot space didn’t open until June 15, 1992. The next year, after 30 years of service, Briley Adcock retired as head of the libraries and Rita Shacklett took the position of acting director, according to the Tennessee Library Association’s History of Linebaugh Public Library. 

Born and raised in Murfreesboro, as a child she attended many story times at Linebaugh Public Library, according to WGNS radio. Little did she know that upon graduating with her MLS degree from George Peabody College for Teachers, she would be hired by Adcock, RCLS’s second library director, and eventually move on to be her assistant director. After Adcock’s retirement, Shacklett served as acting director until Laurel Best was hired as the new director. Upon Best’s move to take on the job as director of the library system in Huntsville, Alabama, Shacklett stepped into the position of director. 

A lot of change has occurred during Shacklett’s time as head of RCLS. What began with two libraries, now encompasses six libraries and a bookmobile. The libraries include the Linebaugh Public Library located at 105 W. Vine Street in Murfreesboro, Rutherford County Historic Research Center located at 435 Rice Street in Murfreesboro, Technology Engagement Center at 306 Minerva Drive in Murfreesboro, Myrtle Glanton Lord Library located inside Patterson Park off Mercury Boulevard, Smyrna Public Library located at 400 Enon Springs Road West in Smyrna, and the Eagleville Bicentennial Public Library on 99 East. 

Not only has she seen the system grow in buildings and cities, but she has also seen the rise of technology. 

“I was the first one to get to use the first computer that we had…a big IBM,” Shacklett told WKRN TV. 

From that first computer through changing over to digital cataloging to digital book rentals to the building of the Technology Engagement Center, which opened in August 2018, where patrons have an opportunity to connect with the latest technology, Shacklett has seen and often been the instigator of the change. 

“Recognizing a crucial need for the 41 percent of Rutherford County residents who do not have internet access at home, advocates of the Linebaugh Public Library pushed for the launch of a new Technology Engagement Center,” it says on the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website. 

She has loved being able to grow with the community and integrate the many technological changes that have occurred with internet access and the digital age. It has changed how we access books, movies, video games and historical research, making it available to a wider range of people. 

Being a part of the community, she has helped many organizations over the years by providing space for them to reach the community and grow, including Read to Succeed, MPROV and the Murfreesboro Writer’s Group. 

“She gave us space to teach teens and pre-teens improvisational theater,” said Roy Lee, one of the founders of MPROV. “We were able to give them someplace to go after school and fun things to do. It was a great time.” 

As Shacklett heads into retirement to spend more time with her husband, children, and grandchildren, she does hope that her successor will be able to provide Eagleville with a new building and add a new branch in Blackman Community due to the massive growth in that area of the city.