Appalachian public libraries show resilience in a technology-ruled era

In a time when you can research anything online, libraries seem obsolete. However, libraries can remain a necessary resource, because they offer services and programs for their communities. Elizabeth Sensabaugh, Library Director of the Radford Public Library in Radford Virginia, explained in an interview that her library observes what the community needs and adds programs and services to fulfill those needs. To Sensabaugh, the main purpose of a library is to fill the needs of the community, whether those needs are supplies, accommodation, or even just entertainment. While these services are sometimes electronic devices, they do not have to be.


“The library is more than just a place to check out books,” said Sensabaugh, “It’s a gathering center for civic groups and community members who share interests. Radford Public Library (RPL) offers programs, events and activities for the community, and people don’t have to have a library card or check out books to attend.”


A focus was placed on libraries in Appalachia, researching several libraries in Appalachian states to discover what types of services they provide. Often, libraries will provide basic needs for people, especially for those who cannot afford them. For example, the Radford library applies for grants to buy food for people. Those people can, then, come to the library and take the food for free.


The library also buys many museum passes, which anyone can take home with them. Some services involve teaching visitors' important life skills, like how to format a resume or how to use electronic devices. Sensabaugh explained that people do not need to check out books to enjoy the library’s services and, while it is unclear if this policy applies to other Appalachian libraries, Sensabaugh claimed that most library services operate the same way.


“We also make copies, fax, offer notaries and passport agent services,” said Sensabaugh. “We proctor tests for distance students.”


A practical service that Appalachian libraries provide is accommodation for people with disabilities or difficulties. Some libraries will provide interpreters and FM Assistive Listening Devices for people who are deaf and have hard of hearing, and they will provide large monitors and books and Braille books for people with impaired vision and those who are blind.


Some libraries even provide accommodation for people with learning disabilities. For example, the Nashville Public Library contains a software program called, WYNN Wizard Version 5.10. This program scans words and reads them aloud to the user. Similarly, the Radford Library added Wonderbooks, devices that have the appearance of a novel but read aloud, to their collection which can be used by people who have trouble reading.

Appalachian Public libraries also host programs and events that people can come attend.


While most library services are available every day, these events only occur on specific days and times. For example, the Hoover Public Library in Hoover, Alabama regularly hosts Story Time but the days and times that it is hosted varies each week. Each week, the number of days it is hosted changes. One week, it will be held Monday through Tuesdays. Another week, it will be hosted Tuesdays through Fridays. Some library events, on the other hand, will only occur once. For example, the Radford Library is having an event called “Cooking with Teens! & Dave!”, a cooking class on November 10, 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.


“RPL also attends outreach events,” wrote Sensabaugh, “meaning library staff leave the building and represent the library at other events offered by other community members and organizations. So we’ll go to the public schools, attend music events at the park, go on to the local campus for the nearby university and more to reach community members who might not already use the library.”


Appalachian libraries will always be needed. Even if an interest in books decreases, libraries give something to the community that can never be replaced: a place that helps people. Libraries aspire to listen to what the community needs and provide services that fulfill those needs.


This gives a whole new perspective on libraries and their faculty. Those that were once seen as only literary guides can now also be seen as people who want to serve the community and make people’s lives better.