I had the opportunity recently to spend some time in each of our library branches and if you have not visited any lately, you may be in for a surprise.Certainly, our libraries remain a place to read or research in a setting surrounded by volumes of fiction, history, and scholarly resources, but they offer so much more. Yes, you are still expected to be quiet, but rather than being warned about being too loud, a librarian is just as likely to offer a craft, a snack, a lecture, a demonstration, and perhaps, even a book or two.
A Safe Place for the Day
Did you realize that hundreds of children are fed at our libraries every day during the summer? A partnership with the YMCA of Roanoke Valley, other community groups, and volunteers ensures that children living near one of our libraries has access to at least one nutritionally balanced meal each day. While I was at the Melrose branch, there were dozens of children enjoying their lunch while working on crafts, playing with balloon animals, and reading. It certainly wasn’t quiet – rather it was full of energy and enjoyment. At the Jackson Park branch, two small groups of children played, one a card game, which I was told, during the summer is an everyday all-day event. The other built various structures from wood planks. Each group proudly displayed the crafts they had worked on throughout the summer. These scenes were repeated at each branch and it was clear to me that these children viewed the library as a place where they could safely spend a good part of a summer day under the watchful and helpful eye of the library staff.
A Place to Celebrate and Discover
In the newest branch, Williamson Road, things were a bit quieter as the lunch program had occurred earlier in the day, but the staff excitedly anticipated some upcoming events, including summer Saturday movies, ballet classes, and a sensory play event for toddlers. Each of the branches provide resources and programming that help celebrate our City’s wonderful diversity and offer the opportunity for all ages to discover something new about themselves and their community. Events ranging from youth theater, performances by local musicians, sign language workshops, head wrap workshops, yoga, and organic gardening can be found in each of the libraries. At the Raleigh Court branch, you can even take advantage of a sound room and equipment to record your own music! The Libraries’ extensive programming fills an entire catalog of events – “the Spot”– which you can access on the City’s website
or pick up at one of the library branches.
Of course, some traditional learning still goes on at each of the branches as well. While visiting the Virginia Room at the Main Library, I noticed two individuals engaged in what appeared to be some pretty serious research with books, articles, and maps spread across one of the room’s many tables. The staff proudly ticked off the many resources present in the room, including books on every aspect of Virginia history, copies of various Roanoke-related documents, and a number of resources used in genealogical research. This space is definitely one of the gems of the Roanoke area and a place where one could easily spend many happy hours.
Another incredible resource can be found in the Gainsboro branch in the Virginia Lee Room, where an amazing collection of books, articles, artwork, and more on the African American experience in Roanoke and throughout the southern United States can be found. Actually, it was easy to notice that the librarians had carefully curated each branch’s collection to be relevant to the surrounding population and to help the entire community increase its cultural competency.
My visits found a staff that, though clearly tired at the end of a long day at the end of the week, love what they do and value the contribution they can make in the lives of so many here in our community. It’s no wonder that the Roanoke Public Libraries were a significant part of securing our seventh All-America City designation or our ongoing national recognition for Grade-Level Reading programs! Our libraries play such an integral role in what makes Roanoke a great place to live and raise our families. If you haven’t stopped by one in a while, swing by one of the branches, maybe take in an event or two, or even check out a book. While you do so, please take the time to thank the staff for their efforts. Don’t worry too much about being quiet – I think you will be pleasantly surprised by just how active and vibrant each of our libraries are.
- Bob Cowell