Dr. Steve Whatley is the former board chair and a longtime trustee at the Newton County Library System. He was an educator for more than 36 years, including serving as Superintendent of Newton County School District prior to his retirement in 2010.

We interviewed him about his successes working with libraries.

GPLS: What are you most proud of in your work supporting libraries?

SW: I am proud of our staffing and administrative leadership at the Newton County Library, the vision we have set, the buildings built and remodeled through funds from state and local governments, and the services we are providing.

I am so proud of how we have served and survived during the Covid-19 pandemic. During this time of upheaval and change, we have had to be so careful and resourceful in balancing our patrons wishes for service, the safety and livelihood of our employees as they served, and the costs of it all, both financial and human toll. We have had to think outside the box, communicate with other libraries on what they are doing as we all try to move forward. Steps backward are hard to regain.

GPLS: Tell us about a time when you felt your efforts led to success in the library?

SW: Now this is the wrong question to ask because this could be a multi-page saga.

We, the administration and board, always like to save money, especially when it is local funds and the budget is tight. We were remodeling our main branch, which after 20 years needed sprucing up. Reconditioning a 32,000+ square foot building can drain your funds, not leaving much, if any, for other needed items.

Our chairs were in dire need of repair or replacement throughout the building. They were banged up from being pushed under the tables, scarred by shoes on the chair legs, and the cushions were beginning to have that worn, sat-on look. The library director discovered that the Department of Corrections could be paid to reupholster the cushions, but that still left a newly designed fabric now covering a nicely padded cushion on a scarred chair – 120 of them.

Someone had the idea to use a Minwax Wood Finish Stain Marker to touch up the scratches, which seemed easy enough. Members of different groups like the Friends of the Library, Lion’s Club, the board, volunteers that were artists, and clubs taking on a project all came to help over a couple of months.

First, we hand cleaned the entire chair (20 years of hand oil, dirt, gum, Pledge, scuffs – all 120 of them), then removed the oily residue left by using Murphy’s Oil to get to the raw wood of each, then stained scratches of raw wood to blend in with the original stain color, then sprayed four coats of lacquer. Well, the stain markers did not match in color, so we had to develop plan B. We concocted a formula of different colors of stain and added it to an outdoor deck stain base and voila, we had our matching stain color. Now we had the stain, but no applicators. We used artist brushes and tiny eye makeup pads to cover only the scratches with the new stain and blend it to the edges of the old manufacture applied color. Then we individually applied four coats of lacquer to each chair allowing a day to dry between coats. Afterward, we attached each cushion to a chair with the six original wood screens—720 wood screws. IT WAS A TASK.

We did it through hard work, teamwork and determination. We used our research skills, collaboration skills and tired hands, knees, and backs to get the job done. Now we have beautiful, lacquered chairs that look like new and we saved lots of local funds.

I have the secret formula for the stain in a safe with my taste-alike Kentucky Fried Chicken and Coca Cola recipes!

GPLS: Why are libraries important?

SW: Libraries have been and will continue to be the important cornerstone of a healthy community. They are places in which patrons can read and study for work or pleasure, or where children can learn early literacy and social skills. Students and adults can do research, or explore or find careers. At the same time, patrons can access a place for gathering and meeting since some libraries have designated areas for book clubs, reading groups or public interest groups.

The environment of the library is all-inclusive, safe, and friendly. And libraries help our county in leveling the playing field for our citizens through free or low-cost materials, services, and access to technology that some citizens, because of socio-economic status, would not have access to at home.

GPLS: What did you enjoy most about your efforts to support libraries?

SW: Contributing to the community by serving on the Library Board provides an opportunity to make available a variety of services that add to a positive quality-of-life for our community. The county government has a strategic plan as does the Library Board of Trustees. As we work together through funding and programming, the plans serve as roadmaps directing us in the areas we have set for service.

I really believe that planning, implementing goals, and evaluating strategies we have developed for the libraries contribute to making Newton County an improving place to live, raise a family, work, and retire. That is why I have done what I do, and I enjoy it.

We can work to leave this a better place!

Dr. Steve Whatley

Dr. Steve Whatley, 2020 Public Library Champion of the Year

“The environment of the library is all-inclusive, safe, and friendly. And libraries help our county in leveling the playing field for our citizens.”