Historic Roanoke library closing until 2021 for major renovation

Local News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — The Gainsboro Branch Library is closing its doors to the public for the rest of 2020 in order to get its first serious makeover in a decade.

Roanoke City Libraries director Sheila Umberger says the renovation is “much needed” as the number of visitors tripled in 2019, reaching more than 1.1 million people.

The library is expected to be closed until January 2021 for the first major renovation in 10 years.

Umberger and her staff is considering it a “refresh.”

The library will see a big technology upgrade with flat screen monitors and a user friendly system for computers. In addition, there will be new carpet, paint, and furniture. The community, teen, and children’s areas will also be remodeled.

(Photo: Courtesy Roanoke Public Libraries)

Umberger says the change is needed to preserve the importance of the historic library.

“We just love interacting with grandparents who came here and tell us stories and bring their grandchildren,” she said. “That’s what we want to do is preserve and create this community space, keep it nice, keep it up to date and refreshed.”

The renovation costs $600,000. According to Roanoke City Libraries, the funding comes from the city’s capital improvement plan that was approved earlier this year.

Another addition will be historic photos of the library displayed on the book shelves. The library originally opened to the public in 1921, but the current building opened its doors in 1942.

Gainsboro Branch Library in 1941. This was one year before it opened its doors to the public at this location. (Photo: Courtesy Roanoke Public Libraries)

For more than 20 years, it was one of four libraries in the south that were segregated, which means it was the only library African Americans could go to legally in Roanoke until the mid-1960s.

Virginia Y. Lee served as the library’s director for more than 40 years. (Photo: Courtesy Roanoke Public Libraries)

Virginia Y. Lee is the reason why the library managed to move to its current location.

She was an advocate after buying the land to build the Gainsboro Branch Library, pushing it to move from its original spot at the YMCA.

Lee served as the director for more than 40 years.

The Gainsboro Branch Library was a safe haven and provided literacy programs to thousands of people across many races and backgrounds.

Umberger believes the upgrade is going to magnify the history of the building.

“I also value what it stands for, which is free access for information,” she said. “Everyone, every child and every family deserves equal access to our information and our library system.”

The City of Roanoke attempted to close down the library in 1976 and 1982, but it stayed open after the community’s opposition to those potential moves.

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