A Library is More Than Just a Building of Books: Inside the Danville Public Library

If you ask Russell Carter to recommend a book to read, he can’t recommend one.

“How do you pick just one?” He asked.

The written word has always been a part of Carter’s life and career, whether as a journalist, communications officer for Danville Parks & Recreation, and now as Director of the Danville Public Library, he understands the power of language.

“From an early age, my mom brought me to this library once a week. I sat upstairs in the children’s section pouring through Dr. Seuss, choose-your-own adventure books, the Hardy Boys, and the Goosebumps series, to name a few,” he said.

Though Carter has served as interim director of the library since October, he is now the man at the helm permanently. The way he sees it, though, he’s there to continue to help the library down its current path.

“During my interim period, I constantly reminded everyone I was just a guest in the house and was here to help further the mission and serve the staff,” Carter said. 

That mission includes providing fun activities for the entire family despite the COVID-19 pandemic. The library’s main branch downtown is open from 10 am to 6 pm, Monday through Thursday, but curbside pickup is available on Fridays at the downtown branch. Saturday hours are being added from 10 am to 2 pm in July.

“The staff of the Danville Public Library (DPL) has been gotten more and more creative as the pandemic has gone on,” Carter said, “including hosting story times, activities, and book clubs using Zoom and social media.”

“As time progresses and we can add additional in-person programs, we will,” Carter said.

Carter, who initially joined Danville Parks & Recreation in 2012, has been a proponent of using social media to promote reading activities during the pandemic. Now that the main branch is open, and with social distancing requirements in place, he has several big ideas to improve the overall library experience.

“We are renovating our upstairs courtyard area to create an inviting outdoor space for reading and future programming,” he said. There are plans to add an art display on the Danville Art Trail as well as public seating and improved Wi-Fi.

As for summer reading, DPL has it covered.

“The Summer Reading Program opened June 15, and it includes a reading challenge as well as at-home and in-person activities,” Carter said. The program is open to all ages and is using the Beanstack app and website to log reading times and activities.

“Thanks to the generosity of the Community Foundation of the Dan River Region, the Friends of the Danville Public Library, and local businesses Dairy Queen and Cocoa Trail Chocolates, we are able to offer exciting rewards at both the midway and completion Reading Challenge benchmarks,” he added. One winner in each age group will win a grand prize.

“While COVID concerns have limited the number of programs we can host, we will continue to add activities as permitted,” Carter said.

As Carter noted, it has been a challenge, but the library’s service has never been more valuable.

“We offered curbside pickup as a way to provide services while encouraging social distancing,” he said. “More will be done as long as those efforts can be made safely.”

Though he was born in Hampton, Carter’s family moved to Sutherlin when he was 4 and lived on the back side of his great aunt’s farm. He is a graduate of Dan River High School and Averett University. “I’m a proud product of this community, and I hope I represent it well,” he added.

Carter and his wife, Heather, have two sons, Gabriel, 9 and Colton, 5. Both, he pointed out, are also regular visitors to the library, to the children’s department just a few yards from their dad’s office. 

A Danville Public Library card is free to all individuals who live within a 50-mile radius of the library and provides the card holder access to borrow books, DVDs, books on CD, as well as online databases, downloadable e-books, e-audio books, music, movies and television shows.

“Anyone is welcome to visit Danville Public Library and participate in our many programs and activities,” Carter said.

Between the main branch on Patton Street and the Westover Branch on Clifton Street, DPL has a collection of over 70,000 materials.

As for those recommendations, two that stick out in Carter’s mind are Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, and the C. S. Lewis classic The Horse and His Boy, one of the classic Narnia stories.

As Carter points out, a building full of books does not a library make. It’s about the people, and he hopes in his new role that he can encourage more interaction and connection between library and patrons.

“It’s our goal to continue to stay relevant and modern while we strive to offer the most efficient services and resources, and develop strong relationships with our patrons, and community,” he said.