Sylva librarian closes book on career

fr brunetteStanding on the balcony of the historic Jackson County Courthouse and Library, high above downtown Sylva, Dottie Brunette begins pointing.


“I used to work down there, and over there I sang,” she said. “And over there is my childhood home, that white building with the steeple roof. Do you see it?”

As she looked around Sylva from the picturesque perch and discusses her career, Brunette was as embracing a personality as she was sentimental and inquisitive about her community. On Dec. 31, after a 27-year career, she will retire as Jackson County Librarian. 

“I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished, but now it is time for me to retire and get some new blood in here,” she said.

On Dec. 11, the library held a celebration for Brunette, a bon voyage of sorts for a lady who has brought much joy and hard work to her profession. Dozens of people from every corner of the community attended with smiles and teary-eyed glances sliding down both sides of the conversation.

“The staff, the patrons here — that’s what I love,” she said. “Seeing people with looks on their faces when something really excites them, joyful looks — that’s what I’m here for.”

A Sylva native, Brunette has had a love of the library as far back as she can remember.

“I was a latchkey child. When my mother couldn’t find me — and that was no fault of hers — she always knew I’d be at the library sitting on the floor with books,” the 65-year-old said. “The library provided me with security and peace. I tell the kids today it’s the only place you can go anywhere in the Universe just for yourself. It is just that important of a place.”

Brunette eventually majored in geology at Emory University in Atlanta, which coincidentally was home to the first library school in the South. She said she felt somewhat burned out from her geology pursuits and soon found herself working in the Hunter Library at Western Carolina University. After a couple of weeks, something clicked in her head.

“My mother was a librarian and I had been pushed since I was a small child to become a librarian,” she smiled. “I knew then this was exactly what I should be doing. So, when I went home and told my mother, she just laughed because she knew it all along.”

After graduating from WCU, Brunette then received her master’s of library science degree from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. From there, she started at Hunter Library in 1986 and remained there until she entered the Fontana Regional Library system in 1996. She moved around and through the Macon County branch, onward to Cashiers, then finally back home to Sylva in 2007. At the Jackson County Public Library, she oversaw the long-overdue relocation and construction of the new library at its current location in the historic hilltop courthouse.

“We came up with an excellent use of this space for the library and other community organizations,” she proudly stated. 

In an age of information and Internet at your fingertips, many might view the library as obsolete. But not Brunette. Beyond the innumerable community workshops held in the building, the library also hosts a wide array of children’s and artistic programs for any and all to attend.

“We offer free Internet and wifi access for everybody, and we teach a lot of computer programs,” she said. “Someone may not be that into reading, but we can offer them something else they’re interested in, and that’s what we’ve always aimed to do, to relate to the people. Then, maybe we’ll hook them in to pay attention to books.”

And to that point, Brunette feels the library is as important to Sylva as it was back when she was a child.

“It’s the heart of the community,” she said. “It’s something open for each and every person in the community. It’s knowledge at your fingertips. You can find pretty much anything you want.”

Wandering the retirement celebration, people from every direction pulled Brunette aside for a few kind words and best wishes. Standing nearby, acclaimed Appalachian storyteller Gary Carden was grateful for her service to Western North Carolina. He pointed out how Brunette would helped him apply for and receive grants from the North Carolina Humanities Council to produce his plays, not to mention offering the library space to perform the pieces.

“She has an aggressive personality, and she gets things done,” he said. “She and I go way back. Dottie struck a deal with me to allow me to have a place to do my plays, which was in the library. All of those plays were done with her help.”

A few feet away, Ruth Shuler of the Jackson County Genealogical Society shared a laugh with Brunette. The two have worked closely over the years.

“She’s been an integral part of our organization,” Shuler said. “Dottie is a wonderful person and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed visiting and working with her. We will miss her.”

With her final day at the library quickly approaching, Brunette said she plans to stay active in the community. She’s looking forward to cleaning her house and perhaps doing some volunteer work with the local bookstore.

So, what does 27 years in the library system mean to her?

“It means that when I decided to have a career in libraries, I set out to do it and I did it. It was the right choice,” she said. 

During the celebration, Brunette felt overwhelmed by all of the love and support.

“It’s a little bit mind-boggling, but at the same time, it’s incredibly gratifying,” she said. “And when I go home today I’ll bawl my eyes out, if I don’t do it beforehand.”

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