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Documentary Celebrates Library's 100th Anniversary

Charlottesville Filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson
Charlottesville Filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson

Charlottesville’s first library opened in 1921. For its first 27 years it only served white patrons, but filmmaker Lorenzo Dickerson says the place was actually a leader in efforts to desegregate the city.

“It was so much earlier than the schools – 11 years before Charlottesville city and another few years before the county started," he notes. "The library was kind of ahead of its time locally in that aspect.”

As a child, he remembers story time at the library and using the first computers. The people he interviewed, like librarian Karen Gillaspie tell tales that go back to the beginning.

The land on which the library now stands, for example, was originally occupied by a synagogue. Two brothers in the congregation – Isaac and Simon – had fought on different sides in the Civil War, tearing the family apart. But when the land was sold, both pitched in to move their house of worship.

“The building that was on this piece of property, the synagogue, was moved brick by brick to where it is now – right behind the library," she says. "It brought the family back together.”

Others recount stories of the first book mobile and the time a tamed wolf visited for story hour. Librarian Ruth Klippstein was terrified – but it was a love fest for the wolf and the kids.

“One of them leaned against the wolf all during the stories," she recalls. "A 2-year-old, a girl who could barely walk, came up to him and put her arms around his neck, and they both tumbled down the floor and rolled around.”

The documentary will be shown at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Paramount Theater, and like the title of the film, it will be free and open to the public.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief