YORK COUNTY — The Yorktown Library, 8500 George Washington Memorial Highway, where the local history collection and research room were previously located, is currently undergoing renovations.
In the interim, the library decided to relocate the reference and local history collections to the Tabb Library, 100 Long Green Blvd., so that the items could be available to the public during the library’s renovations. The library is also using the Grafton Annex Library at Fire Station 1 on George Washington Memorial Highway as a warehouse to store other books and collections.
But what started as a way to make available York County’s local history collection led to a misunderstanding several years ago — and a big one at that.
The rumor that the library was dismantling the local history collection started when Kevin Smith, library director for the York County Public Library, decided to remove books from the local history section that he did not consider relative to York County.
Smith states that the local history room was “underutilized,” so he decided to “highlight” the resources in the general circulation of the library in an effort to promote the collection.
Dan Seabolt, chairman of the York County Historical Committee, said that two years ago, he received a phone call from an unnamed individual at the library asking him if he wanted to look at some of the books in the library that it were getting rid of.
Seabolt said that he went in and saw two carts full of books, mainly about genealogy and Virginia history, that were free to take with no record of who took what.
He said that he was concerned that the library was doing away with the local history collection, but after speaking with Smith, he realized that it was a “gross misunderstanding.”
Seabolt said that “they absolutely were not” getting rid of it.
In fact, Smith told Seabolt that they decided to digitize everything to make it more readily available to the public.
Smith also decided to repurpose the history room to allow teachers and students to reserve it as a dedicated study space. The Yorktown Library did not have any study rooms and the history room “sat vacant for 29 days out of the month,” Smith said.
“We were never ever dismantling the local history collection, I was simply repurposing the room and making the collection more available,” said Smith.
He described the books that were removed from the collection as “coffee table picture books” with “glossy pictures” of the Governor’s Mansion, Virginia Beach, Richmond and Charlottesville.
“I was like what does that have to do with York County?” Smith said. “The moral of the story is, we’ve never, ever considered dismantling that collection.”
WYDaily was unable to verify Smith’s statement that the books removed from the collection were not relevant to York County’s history and genealogy.
While this misunderstanding was from roughly two years ago, it led to some pushback from local historians concerned about the future of the collection.
Concerns still looming
The announcement of the renovation of the Yorktown Library renewed concerns about the collection and if the library planned on keeping the local history room, which gave researchers a dedicated space to study local history and genealogy. Local history rooms are a common practice in regional library systems, including Hampton and Newport News.
Bonnie Karwac, who volunteers with the York County Historical Museum, acknowledged the “unfortunate miscommunication about the collection” and said that while local history is not a priority for everyone, future researchers should preserve it.
“I’m very glad they are moving much of the collection to Tabb. Local history and genealogy is not always available in a digital format, so much of this information is unique,” Karwac said.
Karwac also noted that she hopes that by moving the local history collection to Tabb Library, residents will become more aware it.
“And I especially hope researchers, history buffs, genealogists, and others, will let the library know how much they appreciate our local history collection and how worthwhile it is to continue supporting the collection,” Karwac added.
Smith said that the new Yorktown Library will not have a dedicated history room but instead will have nine multipurpose rooms with big tables and comfortable chairs that can seat four or more people.
He also noted that the flexible space will allow for residents to conduct their research in private while creating a space for study groups like teachers and students to congregate.
The history collection will be shelved several feet away from these new rooms.
Frank Green, a local historian and genealogist, understands that the library plans to keep the local history collection “close by,” but also feels that it would be more convenient for researchers if the materials were located in “one central area or room.”
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“Of all the seven original shires [counties], York County Library will be the only one without a separate local history room,” Green said. “With the exception of Henrico, I have been in all of them. It’s an embarrassment.”
The reason that the library is not having a dedicated history room has to do with changing times, Smith noted. While a local history room at the library was something common 30 years ago, in recent years, he said that the trend is for having collaborating rooms.
“It’s just the evolution of the public library,” Smith said. “Prior to COVID-19, more and more people want collaborative spaces. It’s just so we don’t have one space that this is the space you’re only going to do x, y and z in.”
Smith said that he has reached out to members of the historical committee as well as local historians to plan seminars on local history and genealogy. He said that he also wants to continue to grow the local history collection.
The construction of the new Yorktown Library starts in July of this year and Smith hopes the renovated library will reopen in the fall of 2022.
The Grafton Annex, 5751 George Washington Memorial Highway, opens on July 6.
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