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Becca Dugger helps library patrons find good books and people who can help with social problems

John Thompson • Jan 7, 2018 at 5:37 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Meet Becca Dugger, a librarian at the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library. Hers is an ancient and respected profession going back further than the age of ancient Alexandria more than 2,000 years ago. But Dugger has another job description. She is the library’s community research specialist.

In this age of multitasking, Dugger’s job title reflects not only the multiple roles she performs at the library, but also the multiple functions a library now performs. Libraries are no longer just a place to borrow books. Libraries now offer a broad range of services, from providing free computer time to the public, making rooms available for public meetings, to assisting those in need to find agencies to help with social, medical and other needs.

Although she is now immersed in the many aspects of her job, Dugger said she did not plan to become a librarian or social worker. The Happy Valley High School graduate went to East Tennessee State University as an education major. After graduating, she obtained her teaching license, and began working with young children, but not as a teacher. She then headed in a new direction when she went back to ETSU for graduate school, getting a master’s degree in library science.

After graduation, she went to work at the Washington County Library and worked there for three years. Then she learned of an opening in the Elizabethton library and applied for the position. She felt a calling to get back to her Carter County home.

Dugger’s familiarity with the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library and her familiarity with library work did not prepare her for the social aspects of the new job she started in 2017. Dugger said, “Social work is completely new to me.”

She quickly overcame that lack of experience by using the network the library had already formed to meet with the various organizations the library works with to address some of the needs the patrons require.

Dugger met and talked with the directors of Elizabethton and Carter County’s various social assistance organizations, including the Carter County Health Department, Carter County Drug Prevention Coalition, University of Tennessee Extension Office in Carter County and United Way of Elizabethton/Carter County.

She is now serving a broad range of people, from preschool children to teens, to young parents, adults and the elderly. Each of these groups has unique needs that are met by specialized service providers. This means Dugger’s network must be large and varied. Despite the complexity, Dugger makes it sound simple when she explains what she does. “My job is to point people in the right direction.”

She also found a new way to expand her role to more people. She is using the front entrance of the library to allow small business owners to showcase their business. “It is called ‘Know Your Neighbor’,” Dugger said. Currently the space is featuring Simple Blessings, a new store in downtown Elizabethton with the atmosphere and classic merchandise of an old country store.

She has also recently joined the board of directors of the Downtown Elizabethton Farmers Market as that organization prepares for its second season of providing homegrown food to downtown shoppers.

Dugger is also planning to work with Milligan College in a forthcoming census of the homeless population of Carter County and is also working on a project to have Remote Area Medical to set up a small clinic at the library. She said it would be only for dental and vision, but that will be important for many who cannot afford such care.

These are all things Dugger did not learn in her library science courses at ETSU, but it is a philosophy she learned from Renita Barksdale, director of the Elizabethton/Carter County Public Library.

“It takes a library to raise a community,” Barksdale said. “We want to see our community grow.” Barksdale said when she first came to the area “I saw a need in our community.”

Libraries have always been a place where the community can get information. Even in the age of Google and Wikipedia, the library continues to fill its role, thanks to librarians like Becca Dugger.

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