Danville Library Lives Up to Namesake

The Danville public library was named in honor of local educator and civic leader Ruby B. Archie. By Phyliss Boatwright

For anyone who loves to read, loves to learn, and loves being part of an engaged and engaging community, the Ruby B. Archie Public Library in Danville is pure heaven.

The building itself, built in the early 1970s, is nestled among trees and shrubs at 511 Patton Street, and is a treat for the eyes. The grounds are beautiful too, including the statue of a little girl lying on her tummy and reading that welcomes visitors to the library’s parking lot entrance. Once inside, patrons are treated to the sight of stacks of books, (of course) a welcoming staff, and windows that look out on and over the city.

Danville Library Lives Up to Namesake
Russell Carter, Ruby B. Archie Library Director. By Phyliss Boatwright

Russell Carter, the library director, is clearly proud of the facility and his staff. He said his job as director is “frankly, just to make sure the paperwork gets done.” Every staff member knows his or her job and does it well, said Russell. “They are library people,” he added.

While giving me a tour of the building, he reminisced about growing up in Danville and spending lots of time at the library. He even got in a bit of trouble there once for dropping card catalog cards over the upstairs railing and onto the floor – at his mom’s feet. But, he said, he loved all that the library had to offer, even when things did occasionally go awry.

Now, he said, he is pleased to be part of a staff that offers the community a collection of 60,000 materials. The library’s annual circulation was 103,336 last year, with about two-thirds of that total being physical materials. Digital materials, including ebooks and audiobooks that can be downloaded for free on the Libby app, accounted for a circulation of 33,442 in 2023. In addition to the tangible materials, the library also offers a vast array of programming for all ages.

There are programs for preschool and kindergarten children, youth, adults, and the elderly. Russell said the library has “the greatest programming team ever” for youth. Chrislyn Gardner and Jess McAllister offer enrichment and STEM programs. And, on one Friday each month, there is a “Teen Takeover” of the library. The building closes to the public at 5 pm and staff allow teenagers to eat pizza, play Nerf games – and of course read – for the evening. There is also a Teen Advisory Board that makes suggestions for materials, programming, and volunteer opportunities that will interest youth. Russell said there is also a “Narnia Night” for youth and that his staff can “make anything imaginable out of cardboard.”

Danville Library Lives Up to Namesake
Visitors to the Ruby B. Archie Library are greeted by the image of a young reader. By Phyliss Boatwright

Adults can enjoy a writers’ group that has met at the library for years, as well as book groups, and even a Dungeons and Dragons Night. Russell said he and his staff had also discovered that “adults like children’s programming” too. Staff member Rachael Miller works with the senior center in Danville to offer programs like a book and film series and “Unrequired Reading,” which allows adults a second chance to read the classics they avoided in high school. A memory care group meets at the library, as does the VA-NC Piedmont Genealogical Society. Russell said the library enjoys the relationship with the genealogy group, which acts as a partner to offer genealogy resources to the public in the area.

He and his staff are always looking for more ideas to increase program offerings, he explained. The library’s new adult services coordinator, Rachel Timm, has been working hard to increase civic engagement, and the library has seen an increase in groups coming in to take advantage of the resources offered at the library. Rachel is currently working on a Black History program titled “Seen and Heard” that will provide “more of a personalized history” of Danville’s Black community, the library director boasted.

The building offers plenty of space for programs and meetings. There is an auditorium in the library that can accommodate groups of up to 50. The computer lab is a space for youth but can also be used for library programming. The Genealogy Department offers a quiet, comfortable space for researching family history. The Law Library provides a professional atmosphere for researching legal issues. Print materials are available in the law library, but Russell said most patrons nowadays use the online legal database.

The library staff is currently working to develop mobile services to offer to the community. During the Covid-19 pandemic, library staff was able to write a grant and purchase a small vehicle to provide mobile outreach in the Danville area. The library falls under the purview of the city Parks and Recreation Department, Russell said, and the city’s upcoming master plan will address the integration of mobile services.

According to its mission statement, “The Ruby B. Archie Public Library empowers and engages the surrounding community through access to free resources and services that enable creative thinking and lifelong learning.” Russell said that mission reflects the character and life of the library’s namesake, Mrs. Ruby B. Archie, who was, he added, “everyone’s English teacher.” Mrs. Archie worked in the Danville Public School System for 37 years, serving as head of the English departments at both Langston High School and George Washington High School.

She was Danville’s mayor from 1998 to 2000, served as a member of the Danville City Council for 16 years, and was chair of the Board of Education. The library was officially renamed for Mrs. Archie in 2018. Russell, a former journalist, covered Mrs. Archie when she was a public servant. He said she was “not afraid to tell people the truth, and as a librarian, I appreciate that.” He added that he hoped the library was living up to the “larger than life legacy” of its namesake.

According to the Virginia Center for Digital History, “During the 1963 civil rights movement, Ruby B. Archie did not demonstrate, and admitted some might have considered her ‘old school.’ But she pointed out that each citizen assumed the role he or she was most comfortable with and could best fulfill. As a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), she gave money to help with the legal costs of those who were arrested and jailed.”

Danville Library Lives Up to Namesake
Ruby B. Archie By © Tom Cogill

The site goes on to explain that, although as mayor of Danville, “Mrs. Archie was instrumental in having the [19th]-century African-American Holbrook-Ross neighborhood placed on the National Register of Historic Places; she did not believe a historical marker should be erected to commemorate the 1963 protests, which centered on the Municipal Building. ‘We don’t want our people to forget that history. We want them to appreciate it, have knowledge of it, yes, and never forget that part of our culture… but I think a marker would be too pronounced… We have to continue to talk about it… That makes it more appreciated than a marker.’”

When Danville renamed it in her honor, a library press release stated, “Mrs. Archie always showed compassion, intelligence, and humor as a teacher, council member, vice-mayor and mayor, as well as bringing honor, wisdom, and dignity to the City of Danville.” The building that now bears her name does the same. That is evidenced by the many program offerings, the spaces available to groups and individuals, and the commitment to serving Danville and Pittsylvania County.

For more information about Ruby B. Archie visit Virginia Center for Digital History at: http://www.vcdh.virginia.edu/cslk/danville/bio_archie.html

Ruby B. Archie Danville Library

511 Patton St.
Danville, Va. 2454
(434) 799-5195