News & Events

Thousands check out new library

Progress-Index: Staff Reports – Published September 7, 2014

PETERSBURG – Community excitement is building around the new 45,000-square-foot Petersburg Public library, with thousands more library cards issued since its opening in April. Petersburg residents are taking advantage of new or expanded resources offered by the library, according to officials.

Wayne Crocker, director of the Petersburg Public Library System, said that on opening week, residents were issued temporary cards because of unanticipated demand.

“We actually went from 1,800 cards to over 7,000 out in the first week,” he said.”We had such response to the opening of the library, more than anticipated.”

Crocker said community use of computers has doubled. Patrons at the former William R. McKenney Branch Library often stood in line to use one of the branch’s 14 computer workstations. The new Petersburg library houses 60 computers to ease the impact of current demand.

He also said patrons are not just using technology services, but are checking out more books, CDs, e-readers and DVDs. Services added for convenience are being widely used, including a self checkout, as well as a book drop that can be accessed from outside the library.

Health and fitness classes are also widely used. The library has added a second yoga class to keep pace with demand.

The library’s three group study rooms and 60-person multipurpose room are constantly booked by students and community groups.

Services that generate money, such as the coffee and gift shop, also see heavy traffic.

To gauge demand, library officials gave a public survey to see what programs interested patrons.

The results were used to implement financial literacy programs, an additional computer literacy class, fitness for senior citizens, and science, technology and math initiatives for children.

But expanded programs require more funding and remaining construction debts must be paid on the $12.7 million building.

Crocker said fundraising efforts of the Capital Campaign of the Petersburg Library Foundation, are still $200,000 short and he encourages the public to continue to give.

“We would like to make that final push to close out by the end of the year,” he said.

How a Virginia City Came Together to Build a Library

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Like a lot of the South’s once-segregated cities, Petersburg, Va., is beset by challenges. A quarter of adults do not have a high school diploma; a third of its high school kids don’t graduate on time; unemployment is high; jobs are scarce; and health problems like diabetes and heart disease are too common. Indeed, in a recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, Petersburg ranked as the least healthy place to live among 131 Virginia communities.
It’s as though the 21st century left Petersburg behind, which is precisely why its magnificent library — and the many others community developers are working to build in hard-pressed cities across the U.S. — is so important to its future. Let me tell you, this is not your mama’s library, where borrowed books were the sole commodity and children were promptly shushed.

This is nothing less than a one-stop repository of knowledge and services.

Sixty modern computers offer free Internet connection, which means the chance to apply for a job at Target, a local supermarket or countless other places that only accept applications online. A partnership with the state health department and Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center offers referrals and information on how to live a healthier life. The READ Center promises to help 1,600 adults earn a high school diploma. An SBA Small Business Development Center teaches would-be entrepreneurs how to start. There are reading nooks, a storytelling stage, a teen center, an “Imagination Station,” a special entrance for school buses and even a gift shop and coffee bar, much like Barnes & Noble, with all proceeds going back into library resources.

I work for a national non-profit that has spent 30 years finding ways to transform low-income neighborhoods, and I’ve seen how libraries have helped revive communities from New York to the Twin Cities.

Sometimes I wonder who rescued whom? When the Internet exploded with technology that put encyclopedias at our fingertips and War and Peace on a Kindle, many feared the local library would go the way of the phone booth.

The truth is libraries have evolved to meet the needs of a 21st-century world, holding to their venerable roam-the-stacks tradition while moving into the electronics future. They remain beloved.

The Pew Research Center recently reported that younger Americans, 16 to 29, are just as likely to be library users as those who are older; and while 10 percent of Americans have never used one, they think libraries are good for their communities.

But in low-income neighborhoods, the library occupies an even more sacred space and fills a more fundamental need as a portal to knowledge for people who are without access. We know knowledge is power, and at the library, knowledge is free. Within its walls, low-income residents have a chance to level the playing field, to find a job, research their medical needs, or simply spend some time in a safe and quiet place reading to their children.

Creating libraries like my library in Petersburg, 10 years in the planning, takes a lot of creative effort from all corners of society. We used federal tax credits, private investment, grants from private philanthropists, and local government resources, not to mention the grassroots fundraising that came from our community itself. Schoolchildren saved their pennies, families purchased bricks, and churches held bake sales.

In places like Petersburg, the new public library is anything but an anachronism. Its parking lot is filled, its computers occupied. The children’s center hums. Indeed, residents have embraced their new library in ways that surpassed all expectations. Just consider the library cards: 590 were issued in May 2013. One year later, a month after the opening, there were 4,500.

Why? Because libraries continue to hold a special place even in our digitized hearts. They have evolved to claim their real estate in a modern world. And nowhere are they more sorely needed or appreciated than in communities like Petersburg, eagerly awaiting the chance to claim their rightful place in the 21st century.

The Equity Factor is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.
-Candice Streett is executive director of LISC’s Virginia office. LISC, America’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to revitalizing communities, equips struggling areas with the capital, strategy and know-how to become places where people can thrive.-

Community gathers for grand opening of Petersburg library

City residents take their first step through the doors of the new Petersburg Public Library located at 201 W. Washington St. Patrons entering the library stand over a mosaic that represents the city.

City residents take their first step through the doors of the new Petersburg Public Library located at 201 W. Washington St. Patrons entering the library stand over a mosaic that represents the city.

PETERSBURG – A dream owned by the community that began 10 years ago is now a reality in Petersburg. City residents, as well as state and local officials, gathered for the grand opening Saturday of the Petersburg Public Library. After the opening ceremony, hundreds of city residents entered the glass doors of the state-of-the-art $12.7 million library.

Much of the funding for the 45,000-square-foot building located at 201 W. Washington St. was made possible by The Capital Campaign of the Petersburg Library Foundation. Contributions from city residents were large and small, some spared the change in the their pockets for funding drives, others contributed thousands.

Delegate Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, said that the new library was made possible by these community efforts.

“Everyone can say this is our library, it belongs to all of us,” Dance said.

Wayne Crocker, director of the Petersburg Public Library System, said that helping to bring the community’s dream to life was worthwhile but hard.

“If I can help some child read on grade level or any adult read on any level … then any contribution I had to making this library happen will not be in vain,” Crocker said.

Robert “Bob” Walker, head of the Petersburg Library Foundation, said that the library would offer many services, including children and adult literacy initiatives.

“In truth, this is an opportunity builder,” he said. “We have so many things for the community to use,” he said.

Mayor Brian Moore said building the library is just the first step toward doing more for the community.

“As they say in Petersburg, the siege is over; the offensive has begun,” he said.

City residents made use of the library’s computers, children’s activities, cafe and of course, the books during the library’s grand opening. Multiple residents at a time made their way to the circulation desk to sign up for library cards.

Danielle Johnson, a regular patron of the previous William R. McKenney Branch library, brought her son Denzel Johnson, 6.

“We always go to the library,” she said. “We have been looking forward to it.”

Pam Hairston brought her 5-year-old granddaughter Iyahe Hairston who said that she loves to read.

“It’s beautiful and it’s larger,” Pam Hairston said. “It has a lot to offer everyone of all ages.”

– Leah Small may be reached at 722-5172 or

Move to the new library begins

The Petersburg Public Library on South Sycamore Street closed Monday so staff and contractors can complete the move to the new library on West Washington Street.

The Petersburg Public Library on South Sycamore Street closed Monday so staff and contractors can complete the move to the new library on West Washington Street.

PETERSBURG – The first batch of books has been placed on the shelves of the new Petersburg Public Library in a move that started Monday.

The William R. McKenney Branch on South Sycamore Street closed Monday as contractors moved materials to the new $12.7 million library at 201 W. Washington St. The new library will open April 26, leaving Petersburg residents without a library for nearly two weeks.

Wayne Crocker, director of the Petersburg Public Library, said city residents will be happy with the services offered by the new library.

The new 45,000-square-foot library will feature about 3,000 square feet for children’s programming, 60 computers for public use, a café and a gift shop.

Space will also be provided for community outreach programs, such as the Healthy Living and Learning Center and the READ Center for adult literacy.

While the move takes place, patrons can return materials in the drop box located on the outside of the library. The library is waiving fines of overdue materials this month.

Crocker said about 80,000 materials will be moved. Catalogued materials will be moved by Kloke, a company that specializes in office and library relocation.

The movers are working to take books off of the shelves in the correct order so they can be placed correctly on the new library shelves.

Crocker said the move itself would take four to five days and it would take another few days for library staff to organize the shelves.

The technology needed to run a state of the art library is currently being installed.

The main upgrades include new servers, a phone system and Radio Frequency ID.

RFID is an electronic alarm system that will be installed in all of the books and at the front door of the library. The system will keep books that have not yet been checked out from leaving the building.

Crocker said RFID would be an important part of the new library’s self check-out system.

“We think it will be very efficient for staff and patrons as well,” Crocker said.

Patrons of the new library will see library events and news displayed on large monitors in the building. More computer work stations will be available and there will be an electronic computer reservation system.

The April 26 grand opening has been in the making for 10 years.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m. will include remarks from city and state officials. Tours of the building will be given, and there will be activities for children and free samples from the library café.

The Petersburg Public Library System has been headquartered at the William R. McKenney Branch at 137 S. Sycamore St. since 1924.

Crocker called the move bittersweet.

“I sort of have mixed emotions. I have been involved with this building for a long time,” he said. “People who grew up in Petersburg grew up coming to this library.”

Published: April 15, 2014

The final push to finish and fund a new library

Progress-Index- March 5, 2014

The final push for a new library in Petersburg is on.

The fund-raising campaign for the construction of the new Petersburg Public Library is now just a little under $200,000 of its goal. So far, the Petersburg Library Foundation has raised about $12.5 million for the roughly $12.7 million project, according to Bob Walker, president of the library’s foundation.

The library is expected to open in April, according to Walker. Simply put, the new library could very well be a game changer in Petersburg by providing a multifunctional gathering space that will enrich the city in many ways.

As part of it’s community focus, the new library features about three times more space devoted to children’s programs on its lower level than the current 1,000 square feet in the William R. McKenney central branch. The current space in the central branch is also shared with other library group programs.

A cafe and gift shop will be located downstairs in the new library. Community outreach programs such as the READ Center will have dedicated classroom and study spaces upstairs. The nonprofit focuses on promoting adult literacy. There will be 60 computers designated for public use. The current central library has only about 25 computers, which forced many patrons to wait in line.

Also, the library is expected to have space for the Healthy Living and Learning Center, a partnership between the Petersburg Public Library System, the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, The center is a key part of the city’s effort to combat obesity, other diseases and to promote healthier lifestyles.

So the new library is more than a library – it is a central place that will play a key role in adult literacy, children’s programs and early education, providing computer technology to those who don’t have it, a resource for entrepreneurs and job seekers and promoting healthy living.

It truly is a building for the betterment of the community. And the community – from school children to individuals to businesses – have rallied to raise money for the library. “The community has really been a big supporter of this thing, from children raising pennies, to churches and sororities,” Walker said.

But a final push is needed to raise the last dollars. We as a community are almost there.

A groundbreaking for the 45,000-square-foot library – which is several times larger and vastly more modern than the present building on South Sycamore Street – was held in April 2012. There have been several delays in the opening due to weather-related construction setbacks and challenges in rasing money.

But the time for a great new community gathering space is almost upon us. It’s been a long time coming, but when people walk through the doors of the new Petersburg Public Library they will quickly learn that the wait and the effort was worth it.

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