It’s time to rediscover libraries.
“Libraries aren’t just four walls and a bunch of books now. They are so much more,” said Jon Bradsher, director of Danville’s Ruby B. Archie Public Library. “They are places people get together and meet and a gateway to electronic resources. There is also programming to stimulate the mind. We always have a goal of providing for the public.”
New to his position since June, Bradsher noted the Danville library has programs on any subject from genealogy to Virginia history. He also plans on bringing in speakers to share their views on “eclectic and diverse subjects of interest to the average person.”
The city library system also includes a Westover Branch at 94 Clifton St., a genealogy department on the second floor and a law library, both at the main library. An annual budget of approximately $1 million includes funding for programming, materials acquisition and staff.
Materials include more than 60,000 print volumes in the library, as well as 422,000 electronic books available, and an annual circulation of approximately 177,000 items.
The number of annual patron visits to the city library averages 176,608 with 18,037 people attending 515 programs. Approximately 7,150 reference questions were answered. There are 35 public access computer terminals available.
The Danville library’s counterpart in Pittsylvania County has an equally impressive array of materials, services and programming.
According to Lisa Tuite, the director of the county library, the county system offers five library buildings; one bookmobile; almost 100,000 items to check out, either digitally or physically; story times at libraries, schools and day cares; 1,433 programs and 46 public access computers.
In 2018 to 2019 so far, the county spent $20.86 per person for the library system (less than the cost of a hard-bound book) and offered 244 hours of library access each week and 105,779 computer and Wi-Fi sessions, as well as answering 10,741 reference questions and giving homework and computer help.
The advent of the internet changed libraries, Tuite said.
“People used to come get books. Now they come in for programs or to use the computers and free WiFi,” she said. “The library is critically important to let everyone participate in an increasingly digital society. People want a lot of things in libraries now. They want STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] labs, a community center, a tutoring room and children’s programming.”
The county’s newest branch, the Mount Hermon branch, offers all of that as well as 16,000 volumes in the branch. More than 46,000 books were checked out last year at the Mount Hermon branch with approximately 300,000 checked out county wide.
Children’s programmingChildren’s programming is a vital part of both library systems.
During the month of June alone, the city library offered free programs for children in Lego engineering, coding, science, Mother Goose, yoga and various story times, plus family game nights and story times.
Last year the city offered 281 children’s library programs with 3,029 attending.
The county branches had children’s programming in cooking and nutrition, computers, crafts, story times and theater arts.
Both systems have dedicated rooms for children’s programming.
“We have a Maker Space that has materials out where children can build Legos and remote control robots. They can do such things as build electronic toys and can sew,” Bradsher said. “It is available most of the time.”
Chrislyn Gardner is the children’s services librarian in the city library and oversees “collection development, programs and outreach to daycares and after school.”
“We take care of the library’s physical resources and promote the digital resources,” she said. “We bring numerous children’s programming all year long and design each program to meet the needs of different ages.”
Each month the children’s library adds about 200 new books to their inventory.
In May, 228 children attended the programs, and before the end of the month in June 500 children already had enjoyed the library programs.
Their biggest event of the year is the Summer Reading Program Kickoff.
“The library is a safe place to learn and explore, it has resources for all ages and it’s a great place for kids to learn about themselves and the world they live in,” she said. “All the programming encourages literacy, imagination and exploration.”
The county also has a dedicated Teen Space in the Mount Hermon branch where, said Beth Marsh, the branch manager, graphic novels, in print and digitized, are a “big draw.”
Virtual reality headsets are now available at each county branch.
“We bought the headsets with a grant from the Community Foundation,” said Tuite. “For the last three years the foundation has given a grant to all the libraries for such things as STEM kits.”
Each branch also offers six to eight programs a week for children. Each location also has four state park backpacks at each location, full of free passes, parking passes, information and equipment, such as binoculars.
Digital access to materials is a large part of the libraries’ offerings in this age of Kindles and computers.
“Digital literacy and digital access is hugely important to libraries because a lot of people don’t have access in their homes,” said Tuite.
Both library systems have computers for the public to use for research, job searches and for surfing the internet.
Library staff in both systems said it doesn’t bother them to see children come in and use computers.
“It’s one of the services we have,” Bradsher said. “It’s the same idea as programming. It gets people in the door to see what else we have to offer.”
It doesn’t bother Gardner to see children come in and head for the computers, toys or puzzles either.
“We have strictly educational games, and lots of kids ask about books,” she said. “We help them determine their reading level and interests.”
Free access to electronic books is also available through both library systems with such programs as Hoopla, Overdrive and RBDigital.
The county alone has almost a million digital items available to its patrons.
Both systems also have extensive DVD and audio book collections at each branch.
“Public libraries are critically important in letting everyone participate in an increasingly digital society,” Tuite said.
Ancestors and patrons’ interest in them also find space in both library systems through partnerships with local genealogists.
The VA-NC Piedmont Genealogical Society staffs and maintains a search room adjacent to the genealogy room at the Danville library.
The collection includes more than “5,000 books, early maps, microfilm, microfiche, journals and newsletters from genealogical societies in over 20 states, local cemetery and funeral home records, obituaries, city directories from 1878, etc.,” according to the society’s website.
“You can schedule a one-on-one meeting with the society members,” Bradsher said. “You use our resources and their expertise.”
The genealogy department is found on the second floor next to the Children’s Library and may be used during library hours with the assistance of library staff or during the society’s hours with a society member.
The genealogy resources of the Pittsylvania County Library are found at the History Research Center and Library in Chatham in a train station the Pittsylvania County Historical Society rescued and renovated.
In a memorandum of agreement between the library with the historical society, the library operates the center. It includes a museum with temporary and permanent exhibits, as well as computers for research and a “state-of-the-art microfilm reader and printer, printed resources and databases,” according to the library’s website.
For the grownups
Each library system also has a variety of programming available to adults, ranging from crocheting and knitting classes to exercise classes to discussion groups to painting to book clubs.
The county library system currently has about 36,000 library card holders.
Anyone living in Pittsylvania County or in any of the contiguous towns can get one. In Danville, anyone within 50 miles of the Danville library may get a card.
Patsy Poteat is a happy patron in the county, taking her grand-daughter with her to the Mount Hermon branch.
“I go at least once a week and check out two or three books at a time. I take them back as I finish them so that I always have one to read and an extra one at least,” said Poteat. “I take Amelia sometimes once a week or once every two weeks. She likes to check out eight to 10 books at a time. We have a special bag for them, so they don’t get mixed in with her own books.”
Amelia also enjoys the play area and usually has to be dragged out of there, Poteat said. “She also enjoyed the Mother Goose on the Loose program,” Poteat said. “I haven’t taken her to the next age group activity yet, but they have quite a few. The librarians are wonderful about helping the kids find books and are also helpful to me.
“I am in a book club, and, if they don’t have a book I want, they will search all the other branches to try and find it. I rarely purchase very few books anymore. I can always find what I need. They also keep a reserve list for new books and will call when your turn comes up.”
Poteat says she saves a bunch of money getting her books at the library instead of buying them and then having to decide what to do with them.
Joanie Schwarz, now retired, says she has been using the Danville Public Library since before the “new” one was opened in 1974. Before then the library was housed at the Sutherlin Mansion on Main Street.
“Most of the time I check out three or four books, and if I don’t like the book after reading the first 100 pages, I will put it down,” she said.
She loves legal thrillers and remembers when John Grisham was at the Danville library once politically stumping for a local candidate and told stories about libraries in his life.
“People in the reference department are very helpful in helping me pick out books and telling me what they like,” Schwarz said.
She has also enjoyed the adult programming, such as book reviews, in the past.
Elzey is a freelance writer for the Register & Bee. She can be reached at email@example.com or (434) 791-7991.