History of the Bookmobile

The Wythe-Grayson Regional Library honors the early history of the Wytheville Library, initiation of Bookmobile service, and ultimately the creation of the Regional Library System, and the growth in services provided at each branch library. Looking back at the formation of libraries in both counties has been both enlightening and fascinating. The Grayson County Library started in 1934 with one woman’s vision. The Wytheville Library had its start in the mid 1920’s,culminating in the formation of the Wythe County Public Library in the 1970’s. In part two of this series, we look back at the history of the library in Wytheville, and the development of the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library. I am Mary Thomas the current Executive Director of Wythe-Grayson Regional Library system. Please join me as I continue to present the rich history of library service to the residents of Wythe and Grayson Counties.

​The early history of the Wytheville Library, or later known as the Wytheville Public and School Library, is limited to a few public records. The first record that I could find for theWytheville Public Library dates to 1925 from an annual report sent to the State Library of Virginia. Mrs. R. L. Peirce is listed as the librarian and the library was open for three hours per week.The next record I found was from a 1938 annual report to the State Library of Virginia; the name of the library was The Wytheville Public and School Library, and the librarian at the time was recorded as Virginia U. Sumner.

​The Library in Wytheville changed locations, as well as names, over the years. In 1925 the library was in a white framehouse located on Church Street across from the Wytheville Baptist Church. In 1960 the library moved to 270 West Spring Street. Later, the library moved to a storefront between a flower shop and a beauty shop on North Tazewell Street. The library’s name was changed to the Wytheville Public Library when located on North Tazewell Street. In 1979 the Wythe County Public Library opened at 300 East Monroe Street, its current location.

The Path to State Funding: County Library Resolution

​In a letter dated July 12, 1942, from H. B. Zabriskie to the Works Progress Administration (WPA)– another program ofPresident Roosevelt’s New Deal– I read that WPA assistance to public libraries would be suspended on July 15. Mr. Zabriskie was seeking alternatives for funding to help keep a library in Galax going. His letter indicated that the Galax Business and Professional Women’s Club was the sponsor of the Galax Public Library and funding was needed.  There are several letters during this period seeking financial assistance for the Galax Library. The response from the Extension Division, a part of the State Library of Virginia, was a suggestion to create a county library system because county library systems could qualify for state aid. In a letter to the Galax Public Library committee (June 17, 1942) it was suggested that the Grayson County Supervisors could create a County Library system under specific library codes. With the formation of a county library system, applying for state aid would then be possible.

​In a September, 1945 letter to Mr. John H. Crowley, Superintendent of Wythe County Schools, Miss Earnestine Grafton, Head of Virginia Extension Library Division, indicated that while attending a conference in Williamsburg (July 1945),Miss Frances Richmond, the School Librarian advised her (Miss Grafton) of planned expansion of library services for Wythe County. This letter was copied to Miss Richmond, Librarian, Wytheville Public and School Library.

​The collection of letters in WGRL’s files skips to 1947, when the Grayson County Supervisors agreed to establish a County Library System and appoint a library board consisting of individuals from Fries, Independence, and Galax. At the end of 1947 a letter from Berta Feaganes, the Librarian for Wytheville Public and School Library states the composition of a board of trustees of five men from the towns and districts of Wythe County. On February 9, 1948, the Grayson County Supervisors passed a resolution to create a Grayson County public library system. There is no record in our files of Wythe County creating a county library system.

​A memo in our files (no date specified) – is headed“Suggested Carroll-Grayson Regional Library Headquarters to be in the town of Galax (which is in both counties).” It lists populations, service area and, handwritten in, are funding amounts from each county meeting the listed local funds required. There is mention of traveling librarians that go to the schools in both Grayson and Carroll Counties. No spoilers here, we know that a Carroll-Grayson regional library system wasnever formed. However, when the Grayson County Library system was formed it included the Grayson and Galax Public Libraries. At the time, the Grayson County Library system laid the groundwork for the strong cooperative atmosphere that exists today between the current Wythe-Grayson Regional Library (WGRL) and the Galax-Carroll Regional Library(GCRL) systems.

​With the officially formed Grayson County Library in 1948, the system qualified for State Aid. On February 13, 1948, Miss Rose Thomas Smith, Librarian, Grayson County Librarysystem was informed of the approval of $5,000 in state aid. The letter goes on to confirm the composition of the new board of trustees for the combined Galax Public Library and Grayson County Library. The letter also acknowledges the added tasks of the Galax Library being the headquarters for the county libraries. This is also the first letter that mentions a bookmobile. Specifically, that “Mr. Campbell, [member of the board of trustees], hopes to hire a veteran for the bookmobile driver”.

Bookmobile Service

​The mention of a bookmobile comes from a letter dated at the end of February 1948 addressed to Miss Grafton from the Grayson County Library. The letter recounts a presentation to the Business and Professional Women’s Club about the bookmobile. The signature on the letter is not legible, but I assume it to be Miss Rose Smith.  The letter states, “There is a great deal of interest in [the Bookmobile] locally, especially in this club which sponsors the Galax Public Library. The club is planning on more information on the extent of services at their March meeting.”

​Mr. Campbell, a Grayson County Trustee, notified Miss Grafton of the order for the Bookmobile. In a follow up letter from Mr. Campbell to the Extension Division, in May of 1948, he mentions meeting with Mr. Poole (Wythe County) and discussing the “…prospects of our two counties [Grayson and Wythe] joined together in a regional library program. …”

​In another letter from Mr. Campbell (June 1948) to Miss Grafton, he states that there will be an informal presentation of the Bookmobile at the Grayson County Supervisors meeting on June 14, with a plan to take the Bookmobile on the following day up to Wytheville to show the Wythe County Board of Supervisors. He states “… It is my impression that the Board will be receptive to our program. …”

​Bookmobile services were reported as having over 900 books went out in July of 1948 in Grayson County. During this month the Wythe County Board of Supervisors decided to cooperate in the bookmobile regional library services. In a letter Miss Smith indicated that they “were busy trying to keep the shelves full.” The first trial run in Wythe County was in early October 1948, starting with service to schools in Wythe County covering Lead Mines, Max Meadows and Austinville. In a letter from Miss Rose, she stated that “…the children were delighted that they really [were] having library services. …”. Several other trial runs were planned to service a total of 11 schools in Wythe County. In another letter Miss Smith indicates the bookmobile circulated over 1400 books throughout the regional system in November 1948.

Wythe-Grayson Regional Library Agreement

​With the initiation of the bookmobile, it appears that, in a manner of a few months, the concept of a regional library was discussed and then approved by the supervisors of both Grayson and Wythe Counties. Miss Grafton (from the Extension Division of the State Library of Virginia) was the ‘go-to person’ for information on regional library formation in the state. There is a memo from her to Rose Thomas Smith, Librarian, concerning the Grayson-Wythe Regional Library. Yes, Grayson’s name is mentioned first in the memo. “On the basis of the enclosed resolution from Wythe County, the telegram of approval from Grayson County and the budget with incomes already approved by the various agencies, the parties concerned asked that the Extension Librarian present a request for a regional library State Aid Grant to the State Librarian and the State Library Board for consideration in the July 16 State Library quarterly board meeting.” The memo goes on to say that the counties expect to have an agreement by early August (1948). Included in the memo is mention of the Bookmobile and that routes into Wythe County would begin as soon as the “Application to Qualify for State Aid” documents had been signed. It is interesting to note that letterheads and further communication from the regional library to the State Library have the name as Wythe-Grayson Regional Library.

Regional Library System is formed

​The Regional Library Contract between Grayson and Wythe was signed by Grayson County on August 19 and Wythe County on August 24, 1948. The appointed board of trustees for the new regional library system were L. R. Campbell of Independence, in Grayson County; R. K. Poole of Wytheville, in Wythe County; Miss Celene Phipps of Galax, Grayson County; James Crockett of Wytheville; Burt Hudy of Elk Creek, Grayson County; and Fendall R. Ellis, Wytheville.  Mr. Ellis was the Wythe County, Superintendent of Schools.

​WGRL Library Board of Trustees, Library Director, Staff and our Friends of the Library Groups are celebrating 75 years since the formation of the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library system. We invite you to join us! Come by your branch library for bookmarks, pins, pens, and stickers (available while supplies last).