“This has been a wonderful job for me; I’ve been so happy here,” Ginny Reese, Greene County Library branch manager, said as she reminisced on her 20 years in the role.
In 2000, Reese said she’d like to “continue to provide good library service at this branch,” and she’s done just that. September marked Reese’s 20th year as branch manager for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library System. And despite the library closure and challenges this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Reese said she wouldn’t change a thing.
“It’s such a satisfying job … Not that many people get to do what they’re really passionate about—to do it and then be paid for it, it’s just such a gift; it’s really been wonderful,” she said.
Although her love of books and libraries began when she was very young, Reese first pursued a career in medical technology before switching to library science. After six years working in reference and cataloguing with the Piedmont Virginia Community College library, she accepted a position with the Louisa branch of JMRL in 1999, transferring to Greene when the position opened up in 2000.
“I just had a very good feeling about this job in Greene,” she said. “I’ve always loved the mountains and you know, Stanardsville is really almost a mountain town.”
The first mammoth task of her leadership of the Greene County Library came with the move to the brand-new building on Main Street in July 2003. “I love working in a library because I’m surrounded by books all day, and this new branch is really a dream come true,” she said on the occasion of the branch’s grand opening.
This wasn’t the first time the library had run out of room. With humble beginnings in the 1960s in the old county jail building, the first Greene County Branch Library opened in 1974 in a small brick residence on Main Street. The library relocated to the “Shank Building” on Stanard Street in 1982, a former laundromat with one large room for the adult collection, two smaller rooms for juvenile books and one meeting room. This building was expanded in April 1992 and it was here that Reese began her journey with the Greene County Library.
“It was a little building that volunteers and the county had really outfitted to be a library and we were very fond of that building,” Reese said. “It was wonderful to come here and work in the old building. We knew almost everyone … when we had summer programs, kids would be camped out on the stairs, sitting on top of bookshelves … we had a little read-aloud club the first year and it met outside when the weather was good. When the weather wasn’t good, we used the vacant part of the building which now is the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office—we did what we needed to do to make that space work.”
The old library building may not have had a lot of room, but its employees and guests have fond memories of their time in the space.
“We had to stand on top of the refrigerator to troubleshoot the printer,” Reese recalled. “When we wanted to do evaluations, we had to either go to Tastee-Freez and sit in the lobby or sit in our cars, and my staff would eat lunch in one of the rooms of the collection—the mystery room, I think. I don’t think we had any computers for the public when I first came.”
After many months of planning, a mid-December 2001 ground-breaking and construction throughout 2002-03, the big move took place in late May 2003 and the library in its current location finally opened its doors on June 3, 2003. A grand opening celebration was held June 28, kicking off the library’s busiest summer reading program on record.
The new building had space for about five times as many books and added a community meeting room, reading garden and public internet stations.
“I remember it very well,” Reese said. “There’d been preparations for this building going on for years before I ever got to Greene—people in the community and the Friends of Greene County Library had been planning and really a lot of instrumental people in Greene County had been pushing for various different levels of library service all through the years … that location that I first worked at wasn’t the first location for a library in Greene, but getting a modern building like this with everything that we needed was really a big deal.”
At the time of the library’s grand opening, it was still undecided who would occupy the upstairs portion of the large Main Street building. It would be nearly a decade before the county finally settled on PVCC’s Stanardsville campus, the Eugene Giuseppe building, taking over that space.
“When PVCC moved in six or seven years ago now, upstairs, that was such a perfect fit, to have the community college on top of the library,” Reese said. “And of course, having the JABA senior center across the hall in the other half of the downstairs part of the building has really been wonderful too. We’ve had a lot of cooperation and collaboration with JABA over the years and they’ve been really good building-mates.”
Over the years, Greene County Library has seen the formation of JMRL’s first adult book club and film series.
“We started the adult book club with really healthy attendance and had a great time with that,” Reese said. “That program is still going on—it’s virtual now, obviously. Within two years we started the very first film series for adults in the library system. That’s on hiatus right now but that was a really big deal for me. I was so nervous because I had to use a lot of new equipment that I wasn’t familiar with.”
Reese admits that when the film series first launched, she was so nervous that she began having panic attacks and had to see her doctor to be reassured that it wasn’t a heart attack.
“I went to the doctor and he said, ‘you’re nervous about something, aren’t you?’ And that’s been nearly 20 years ago now and that program was just really successful,” she said.
The Greene library was also the first to have a street fair-type summer reading kickoff event, with annual attendance around 300 people every June. In 2019, they started a new “grown-up game night” where families can come and learn to play a board game. The library purchases several copies of new strategy games and teaches the attending families how to play, serving refreshments as they learn new skills together.
“You asked me about moments that I remember through the library and really my very favorite ones are probably watching little kids through the community—just different moments at the desk … hearing them be excited about a book or peeking in the doorway when Miss Holly was doing storytime,” Reese said. “Watching the little kids in this community grow up in this library—it’s just really priceless; it makes me feel good.”
The library continues to add new services every year, especially during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Children’s staff in particular have created a lot of new programming online to increase access to virtual students and those who may have transportation barriers to accessing the library’s collection. Parents can “dial in” to a pre-recorded story time each week, and books and other rentables are available in both a curbside pickup format or during socially distanced personal library appointments on alternating days.
“There’s always a silver lining, no matter what terrible thing may have happened,” Reese said of 2020. “The silver lining of the pandemic for our staff is that we have learned different ways to do things, and they have in some cases turned out to be better ways ... Learning how to run programs virtually allows people to participate that couldn’t participate before. We have seniors who had dropped out of book club because they couldn’t drive at night; now they can come. Or we have people in the book club who are only here part of the year and they go somewhere else the other part of the year that it doesn’t matter now where they are, they can come. There are so many examples of how we had to change how we do things ... we’ve had to really learn quickly this year and I feel thankful for that.”
The library moved to Tier Three of its reopening plan on Sept. 21, which allowed patrons access inside the building for the first time since the shuttering of schools and businesses in late March.
“I do feel like we have done being open during this pandemic carefully and safely,” Reese said. “I have to credit a lot of regional staff for helping us out with that. We’ve had to order a lot of new equipment for these operations, and determining opening dates for Tier 3 was a lengthy and complicated process … The regional library director was a courageous and strong leader for opening the branches back up safely, and he has my admiration for that.”
In reflecting on the past 20 years of service to JMRL, Reese says she never imagined how quickly the years would go by. “When I was just starting out I really didn’t look ahead that many years,” she said. “You don’t know when you first take a job that it’s going to end up being a career.”
Reese wanted to thank her entire staff for their hard work over the past two decades and especially during the tumultuous 2020 season.
“I’m really thankful for the staff that I have; they’re all really talented,” she said. “They’re all super passionate about books. Every single person in this building is working on programming for the public. Every single person is working on the collection in here... it’s very participatory with the staff here at Greene. I feel like this library is really a quality operation and I feel proud about that.”
JMRL presented Reese with her 20-year service award in 2019, taking into account the additional year spent at the Louisa branch before coming to Greene.
“I feel like I’m thankful every day—I’m celebrating every day with this library, really,” she said. “I don’t have any definite plans to retire anytime soon but I am just thankful to be here and thankful for the people of Greene coming into this library—and that I have made so many friends here in Greene through working here for 20 years.”