This article is seventh in a series.
It’s important, where we live and why, but it’s sometimes hard to pin down everything that makes a community what it is. Sometimes public or private institutions work especially well and contribute to a surprising degree to its overall livability and appeal. That’s true in Crozet, where some of the day-to-day services and destinations are beloved by their users. Many of those who participated in conversations for the Crozet master plan enthusiastically put Crozet-Western Albemarle Public Library in that category.
A Space for Everyone
In a massive, years-long effort, area citizens, local government and an array of public servants, non-profits and civic organizations built and furnished the Crozet Public Library, soon to be seven years old. It’s a place that has become a community hub, with materials and programs that engage the people of Western Albemarle, whatever their interests.
“This is what I love about public libraries, honestly, because it is a space for everyone,” said Hayley Tompkins, the library’s branch manager. Tompkins noted that people who have literary inclinations are usually already accustomed to libraries, and there are plenty of resources at the library for them. “For those people who haven’t had a lot of exposure to libraries, it’s important to find where they are and invite them in.”
To do this, the staff visits children in day care, schools, and after-care, and goes to the Crozet Food Pantry once a month with library information and free books to give away.
Patrons of the Crozet Laundromat will find a box of books from the Friends of the Library as they wait for the spin cycle. “And we try to attend other community events when possible to make sure that people know we are here and show them all that the library has to offer,” Tompkins said.
As far as programs go, it’s quite a trick anticipating months in advance what people might like to learn about, but Tompkins has some tricks up her sleeve. One of them is keeping track of which nonfiction books are in demand. That’s how she knew the community was interested in minimalism, for example, or how to raise children, write a resume, work for racial equity, keep a bullet journal, or find their enneagram type. Monday movie nights and a very active book club engage those who love stories of every type.
Creative ways to deliver books during the lockdown helped keep readers happy. And programs didn’t stop while the library was closed: the staff was able to present virtual programs on parenting and resume writing that are still available on the library’s YouTube channel. Tompkins is looking ahead to offering community discussions about racial equity and healing, and to add small group gatherings also offered online for those at different degrees of risk. At the Gazette’s publication time, details about the library’s re-opening were not known as yet.
“Children’s programs are always very successful,” Tompkins said, “as there are a lot of families in the area.” The weekday story times are often full, and now (or at least before COVID) there’s a popular Saturday drop-in story time for those who can’t attend during the week. Not even babies and toddlers are neglected: there’s a sensory play program (It’s Bin Fun) that attracts many dozens of little ones; and programs for elementary school students are well-attended too, especially if there are animals, Tompkins said. The same is true of programs for teens and pre-teens, planned by the Teen Advisory Board, on their current interests, and those of their friends.
There’s another way in which the library responds to citizens. It offers an opportunity for people to meet in person, whether for community meetings or in a special interest group. It was the first place Paul Stadig thought of when he organized a community game night. Stadig, who works at home as a software engineer, wanted to meet other people nearby who shared his interest in modern board games. “I didn’t want people to feel obligated to purchase something,” he said, “Nor did I want to have food and drinks around when we’re playing.” Group members of all ages, some of them coming from a surprising distance, felt comfortable at the library, and Stadig said he made some new friendships from the group.
Ironically, one of the games the group played on the last night the library was open was “Pandemic.” Since then, the group has been playing games online, but “I never wanted that,” Stadig said. “My goal was always to get people away from digital devices and televisions and interacting face-to-face. As soon as the library opens back up, we’ll be meeting there again.”
Tompkins sees the library as a central way to offer many of the things important to people, whether they’re seeking materials, internet access, special programs, community meetings, or just a quiet space: “We are an avenue to information, entertainment, connection, and community engagement,” she said. “And it’s all free.”
For information about the library’s programs as well as current policies and re-opening guidelines and dates, visit www.jmrl.org/br-crozet.htm.