Regional Library Celebrates 75 Years of Service!

Happy Anniversary to the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library System for seventy-five years of service to Wythe and Grayson Counties. The theme for our 75th anniversary celebration is ‘Looking Back, Stepping Forward’. In the two previous articles I, Mary Thomas, Director, recounted stories from our files about our founding libraries, the implementation of bookmobile services, and the creation of the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library system.

​Over the past 75 years, the Regional Library system has expanded library collections, programs, and services. Expansion also includes the addition of three branch libraries, creation of the Mountain Network Catalog Consortia (Mt-N-CA), initiation of outreach services to homebound individuals, and programs for youths and adults.

​With the addition of branch libraries came an increased in collection size. Allowing for greater diversity in the types of materials available to loan to library patrons (we are not just books anymore). Each of our five libraries offers Public Access Computers (PAC), free WiFi, and most recently the addition of privacy booths at the Wythe, Grayson, and Whitetop Libraries.  All our libraries offer (for a nominal fee) copy, printing, and fax services The Grayson and Wythe Libraries serve as Passport Acceptance Facilities.

New Main Library Buildings and Branch Libraries join WGRL

​In 1960, citizens of Wytheville formed the Wytheville Library Association to obtain additional library services, beyond the bookmobile, for the Town of Wytheville. They established their own library in the town. According to a document compiled in 1974 by Donna Brown, it is implied that Wythe County up until this point, only had library services provided by the bookmobile. The Wytheville Library Association joined the Regional Library system on June 25, 1960. The contract states the “desire to establish in the Town of Wytheville a branch library of the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library to serve the library needs of the Town of Wytheville”. At some point after this agreement the Wytheville Library moved into the North Tazewell Street location. The contract between WGRL and Galax Public Library was updated on June 5, 1962.  The Galax Public Library at this time was considered a branch of the Regional Library. (GCRL recently celebrated its 45thanniversary).

​In the late 60’s the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library Board, determined that more space was needed for the collection, library operations and regional services. A new building was completed in 1973 and is the current Grayson County Public Library and headquarters for the Regional Offices. This was also the year the board hired a professional librarian to improve the services of the Regional Library (according to the 1974 review by Donne Brown).  Miss Martha A Carter is noted in the September 1973 board minutes as the Librarian for the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library.

​The Wytheville Public Library Association, in reviewing the collection size and use of the facility on Tazewell Street also determined in the mid 70’s that a larger facility was needed. The current location of the Wythe County Public Library on East Monroe Street was dedicated in 1979.

​A branch library opened in the Town of Fries, in the Community Center (formerly the old YMCA building) in April 1996 as recorded in a 2007 “History of WGRL” document by Michael Gilley, Executive Director at that time. The Fries Library serves the Town of Fries and surrounding area. In the past few years, the Fries Library overcame a major challengeand has come through with a warm and inviting library space. The library is currently open three days a week and the view of the New River creates a peaceful feeling in this library.

​The Whitetop Public Library opened to the public in August 1996. Originally located in a rented space off U S Route 58 in Whitetop, this branch library outgrew its space, and an alternative site was sought. The library was moved into its present space in the Whitetop Community Center in 2006 and the library continues to operate in this location. The view from the back windows of the library is spectacular at any time of the year but especially in the fall.

​According to a “Brief History of Rural Retreat Public Library” (Courtesy of Sandy Vernon) a library started in 1999 through the efforts of the Friends of the Rural Retreat Public Library. The Friends group found a temporary facility near Interstate 81 and leased space. They started the process of establishing a library with donations from the public.

​The Friends of the Rural Retreat Library sought a permanent location for the library. In late 2000, a potential location was found. The Friends made a monumental effort to secure funds and as group they took a leap of faith and secured a mortgage to purchase an old house not far from the elementary school. The library closed for a short period to make necessary renovations on the house to make it function as a public library. This more than a century-old building has charm and character of a county cottage. This is the perfect place to sit in the front ‘parlor’ and relax with your favorite book. The Friends of the Rural Retreat Library have scrapbooks, created by Evelyn Lahman, documenting the early years of the RRPL.

Outreach Services

​Outreach services originated with the ‘footback librarians’in Grayson County. The service expanded to include Grayson County and Wytheville with the purchase of a bookmobile in 1948, which continued until May 2000. The service at that point changed to a delivery service to homebound patrons in Wythe and Grayson Counties.

​In 1994 WGRL and Galax Carroll Regional Library formed the Mountain Network Catalog (Mt-N-Cat). The purpose was to have a joint automated system. The spirit of the bookmobile has adapted over the years and continues today, as courier service to move books from one library to another as requested by patrons using the shared online catalog or for home delivery to qualified patrons.

​Over its 75-year history, the Wythe-Grayson Regional Library has grown into a five-library system in a consortiarelationship with the Galax-Carroll Regional Library andmaintains outreach services to patrons in Wythe and Grayson Counties. Recently the libraries went fine free, this was a huge positive change for everyone.

Looking Forward

​WGRL libraries are more than books on the shelves. WGRL libraries offer a wide range of items, books included, for checkout. The library collection includes books, audiobooks, DVDs, Music CDs, newspapers, and magazines. Our libraries also have mobile hot spots, ereaders, STEM kits, Book Club kits and the Grayson Library has a telescope. Our collections continue to expand and be redefined by patron requests. During our Strategic planning sessions with the public, there weresuggestions of including more ‘things’ as part of our collection.

​From our redesigned website more resource more materials, recourses and databases are available. All Wythe and Grayson County residents have access to Overdrive/Libby, Worldbook Student, Kanopy, Ancestry Library Edition (in house only) and a variety of Databases.

​WGRL’s goal is to offer programs free of charge to the public. We have and continues to offer programs for children, teens, and adults. Many of our programs come from recommendations from our library users. June through July our libraries are busy with Summer Reading programs. Storytime for children is always popular during the school year. Currently programs for adults range from recipe swaps to game nights, movies to book clubs, Trivia night to Dungeons and Dragon. Programs offering live music, storytelling and author talks always draw a crowd. Music at the Rural Retreat Gazebo on a summer evening is always a delight. Ukrainian Egg decorating, a long running popular program, is so much fun.

A Shout-out to our Library Friends

​Our thanks must go out to our friends of the library. Without their help many of our programs would not be possible, landscaping around the buildings would be nonexistent, staff appreciation and meals at training session, and their input on what their communities are wanting from their branch library, or for the regional library system is invaluable. The friends help us out with items that cannot be purchased from state funds or are not covered in local funds. Consider joining your local Friend’s group.

​WGRL will be looking to expand our services to the public in response to your suggestions to our questions over the past year. We are looking to expand programming for tweens, teens and adults and looking for opportunities to take library programs out into the community. We continue to look for opportunities to enhance our outreach services, particularly looking to the future of technology and remote access to materials and information. As WGRL looks to the future we will always be considering options and opportunities to serve the Wythe and Grayson communities in the best way possible.

Mary Thomas, Executive Director