The Roane County Library was not always located in its present building but has had many homes over the past fifty two years. In 1951, the Roane County Library's first home was upstairs in the old Community Building, now the site of Shop and Save. Wanda Cooper became the first librarian and stated that at the beginning the library was not widely used by the citizens of Roane County. At that time, Wanda and the driver of the bookmobile were the staff. Wanda as librarian until she left for college, at which time Evelyn Simon took over the duties of librarian.
The library was moved from the community building to the old Spencer-Roane bank building, now the home of Taylor's Flower Shop. From there, it was moved two a two-story yellow home across from Taylor-Vandale Funeral home. Before moving into its present location, the library moved to the Well's building which later became Debbie's dress shop.
When Evelyn Simon retired, Mary (Toby) Garrett was hired as her replacement and worked for many years before she too retired. Toby, working with the Library Board was instrumental in much of the design of the then new building.
1976, at long last, moving day from the old to the new! With the help of the Boy Scouts and volunteers from the community, the move was made with a minimum of exhaustion, but, I might add, fun by everyone. Although the books were boxed and numbered according to classification, of course, there were those that were just gathered up and brought over in handfuls. However, it didn't take long to sort them out, since there were a lot fewer books than today. Wonders of wonders, we had so much space that the top and bottom shelves were not even used. Little did we know that in a few short years all the shelves would not only be used, but we would have to start weeding to make room for new books.
Special features in the new library included the two fireplaces, one upstairs and one downstairs. In the winter everyone enjoyed sitting around the fireplace upstairs, and before long this became the favorite spot to spend an hour or so reading a book, the daily newspaper, or visiting with a friend.
The staff was especially pleased to not only have a workroom, but their own kitchen. Downstairs there were meeting rooms, a kitchen and of course, rest rooms. We also had an elevator which fast became the favorite sport for children after school.
In the beginning, as stated before, there were no computers and you carried no library card. Instead you were registered by the staff. When checking out books you signed a circulation card and a date due card was stamped and placed in the book. Since many signatures were not legible, it was often difficult to discover who had an overdue book. Next came the small orange library card, which was only to show you were a member of the library. However, most of the patrons generally forgot to carry their card with them, and this method was eventually fazed out. With the advent of the date stamp machine, library cards were issued and this system was used until the library became computerized.
Generally there was a regional library system covering six or more counties with a director who had a degree. The Roane County Library was part of the Alpha Regional Library system which consisted of the following counties: Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Ritchie, Roane, Wirt and Jackson. For many years, the Alpha Regional Library system made their headquarters in the lower level of the library. Most libraries in the state were run by librarians who did not have degrees in library science. However, the men and women who staffed these libraries had years of experienced and were dedicated to providing quality library services to their communities.
For many years, not all libraries were easily accessible to everyone, especially in the rural areas. How many remember the bookmobile which brought library service to the rural areas? Eventually the bookmobile was fazed out to be replaced by Mail-A-Book, which also was to serve the rural areas only. The bookmobile collection was divided among the counties in Alpha and paperback books replaced them. In later years, the Mail-A-Book program went the way of the bookmobile since postage and paperback books became too expensive and the program was longer feasible. This did not deprive library patrons of access to library service, since many counties now had branch libraries in the form of carousel or outpost libraries.
The local history room has been one of the major features in the library due to interest in genealogy. The history room has now been moved downstairs to the meeting room originally used by the GED classes and the room upstairs is now a reading room dedicated in memory of Phil Scott.
In 1982 since the art show had always been displayed in the lower level of the library, it was decided that we should take part in the Black Walnut Festival. We hung quilts on clotheslines from the rafters and displayed other crafts throughout the upper level of the library. We also had a few craftspeople working and displaying their crafts.
One of the popular attractions was the signature quilt. The first signature quilt was one yard of material and it became so popular we eventually filled four sheets every year. The year we featured a hand quilt for children, we quickly realized we should have had one for the adults because many wanted to put their hand print with their signature as well. These quilts were finished by local volunteers and then raffled the following year.
Let us now go back years to the problem of funding for the library. Each county is funded by population, with one half of the funding provided by the state from the West Virginia Library Commission, and the other half provided by the County Commission. For many years, it was difficult for the counties to meet their part of the per capita funding, due to budget problems.
In 1987 and excess levy was passed by the citizens of Roane County. It was called "The Emergency Services and Library Levy" and since then, has been passed each time it comes up for vote.
The West Virginia Library Commission has always played a large part in the history of the Roane County Library.
In 1985, a carousel library was built at Walton, due to the efforts of the citizens of Walton, among those were Bob and Georgia Sergent and Jim and Donna Board. This library serves the Walton area and provided many of the programs and services of the main library.
During the years, Fred Glazer was Director, he worked to upgrade all the libraries in the state. In the early 70's, in conjunction with Marshall University, librarians spent two weeks learning different phases of Library Science. Toby Garrett, Anna Tucker, Lisa deGruyter, Diane Short and Lorraine Scott were among those from this county who took classes for two weeks at the University every May.
One of the services enjoyed by children was the Dial-A-Story. Children could call and listen to a story over the phone. This was very popular until the night the library was broken into. Though we were relieved that no serious vandalism occurred, (such as throwing all the books off the shelves) it wasn't until much later that we discovered our Dial-A-Story machine had been taken.
Through grants received by the library, in 1984, "A Measure of Prosperity", a history of the growth of Roane County, written by Jim Mylott was published. Since this book primarily covered the oil and gas industry, another history book was published in 1989. Bob and Georgia Sergent and Maxine Kee were members of a committee formed for the publication of this book. The 1989 history consisted of the history of families, written by family members. All proceeds from both of these books went to the Roane County Library system to be used to enlarge their genealogy sections.
A few years ago, the Geary Library was opened, another branch of the mail library. With the loss of the first bookmobile and then the Mail-A-Book, the Geary and Walton branch libraries would serve the residents in these areas of the county.
A part of the Spencer Department Store remains in the library. Two of the very old, antique display cases were placed in the library a few years after our opening. The very old showcase downstairs, used for craft displays for many years, was brought over from the old library and was a part of the Millard Tyson Store.
The Roane County Library system is now 52 years old and has seen many changes in those years. It would be almost impossible to list everyone who contributed their time and effort to the library over those years; the Board members, many who served year after year, the staff members including the librarians, Wanda Cooper, Evelyn Simon, Toby Garrett, Lynette Sloan, Lorraine Scott, Suzette Lowe, Lucinda Castle, Karen Leisch, and Mary Fury. We cannot forget the many volunteers who helped with our programs, worked the desk and shelved books. To all of these we owe a special debt of gratitude, but more important, we owe a special thanks to that group of people who made the libraries a reason for being, the people who use the libraries - the patrons.