SYLACAUGA, Ala. – The B.B. Comer Memorial Library in Sylacauga is hosting a retirement celebration for former Library Director Dr. Shirley Spears on Wednesday, March 29.

Growing up in Fayetteville, Spears always saw Sylacauga as “town.” To her, it was a place where people went to be successful.

Spears, however, rarely had a chance to travel to the Marble City. The conditions where she lived were not the best and there was not a car in sight to take her into town. To Spears, nostalgia radiated throughout Sylacauga, and little did she know she would spend the majority of her adult life living and serving in the community she grew up striving to reach.

After graduating from Fayetteville High School, Spears moved to Alexander City and entered the work force. Like many who worked in Alexander City, Spears took a job at Russell Mills, but also decided to continue her education at Alexander City Junior College (ACJC) where she accumulated 210 credit hours. Spears told she always liked to learn, and her ambition to gain knowledge would not stop at ACJC after gaining an Associates in Science degree.

Spears progressed her education at Auburn where she would gain three life changing degrees. First, Spears gained an Associates in Arts in Educational Media, a Masters in Education in Educational Media, and a Doctorate in Social Science Education.

Spears’ career as we know it began in 1971 as a librarian at Benjamin Russell High School. “I learned a lot at being a school librarian,” said Spears. “It really prepared me to be the library director here [at B.B. Comer Memorial Library].

Her jump to Comer Library in 1983 took place after her husband, Ted, took a position with the Talladega County Board of Education.

This is where the impact of Spears in the Sylacauga community began.

The jump was challenging. She said her biggest challenges were building the Comer Library personnel into a team, gaining an adequate budget, and developing a meaningful program of service of all people.

Spears’ initial lack of experience operating a public library did not to impede the growth of Comer Library. In fact it grew like never before during Spears’ 33 years reign as director.

Her goal was to make Comer Library a community-centered and oriented library. She told her goal as director was to serve the people.

She accomplished that goal…and surpassed it.

Under her watch, the library has made an effort to present regularly distinguished and featured programming and services for adults such as the Brown Bag Lunch series. Nearly every week the library hosts speakers who are specifically brought in to further education with adults. The library also partners with many civic organizations to host children’s reading programs and enhance learning opportunities for the youth in the community.

According to Spears, one of the many aspects of the library she is most proud of is the amount of active cards the library has distributed. She said the library has more than 30,000 active cards which she believes signifies the success of her library. She is also proud to that families can check out 40 books at one time.

Her list of accomplishments do not stop at the library. Spears has been very involved in the community in numerous aspects. She was the Chairperson for the Alabama Reunion Committee for Sylacauga. That was the very first civic role she took on. She founded Leadership Sylacauga which is one of the programs of which she is most proud. She also served as the President of the Sylacauga Chamber of Commerce for two years in the early 1990s.

The list of civic responsibilities goes on…nearly as long as her list of awards and achievements. She won the Alabama Eminent Librarian Award in 2001, the Sylacauga Beautification Council’s Citizen of the Year in 2007, the Woodman Life Community Leadership Award in 2016, and the Comer Library won the National Award for Library service in 2000.

For those who adore Dr. Spears in the community, do not be saddened. She is not going anywhere. She will continue to be an influential figure in the city and continue to serve on many committees. “Continuing to serve on local, state and national committees gives me the opportunity to make a difference by networking and by being in the right place to have influence on issues that are important to me and my town,” she said.

Sylacauga is certainly losing a great leader as library director, but Spears was sure to mention her successor, Tracey Thomas, is prepared for the job. “Tracy will do an excellent job here,” she said. “She is very fluent in technology and that part of the library will thrive under her watch.”

Spears’ retirement celebration is set to start at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Everyone in the community is invited to enjoy the two-hour reception and a special presentation that is set to start at noon.

Jeremy Law for | © 2017, City Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.


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