By Matt de Simone
Botetourt County’s departments consist of hardworking, driven, and accomplished employees who continue to make Botetourt a wonderful place to live.
County residents looking for info on the area, the education system, and recreational activities may look no further than Botetourt County Libraries to learn more. Botetourt libraries are filled with books and media that meet the needs of residents. The libraries also offer programs for the entire family for exploration and fun.
Library Director Julie Phillips began her Botetourt story in 2019. The northwestern Vermont native moved to Botetourt by way of Greenville, S.C., where she graduated from Bob Jones University with a degree in History. During that time, Phillips worked in the university library.
She received her Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois and started working in a public library. While working at the public library, Phillips discovered a love for working with people, management, and switching gears to the administrative side. She also spent time dabbling in work with museums and private libraries.
Phillips grew up on a dairy farm, where she discovered her love for horses. As she helped her family maintain the farm, Phillips found herself wanting to learn about anything and everything that piqued her interest.
She still finds herself still wanting to “know.” These days, she finds herself reading, taking classes, and diving into unfamiliar subjects. She also loves spending time outdoors with friends.
“I like to learn everything, so I was one of these insatiably curious kids who just had to know,” Phillips explained. “When I was a teenager, I started going to the public library to do research and discovered all of these answers to questions I had forever. When I was about 16, I decided that (working in a library) was the career for me.”
She began working as a branch manager in the Greenville County Library system. During her time in that system, Phillips filled various management roles before arriving in Botetourt, where she assumed the role of Library Director for Botetourt County.
“I have loved (being Library Director),” Phillips said. “This has been the most fulfilling, engaging, and exciting job I’ve ever had. One thing that I love about Botetourt County is, within the county government and departments, we have such a strong team of people who care about the community. They are hardworking, kind, and generous.
“You get this very cooperative, almost ‘family’ feel of people coming together to make things better. That makes my job so much easier. We have an incredible Library Board who are supportive and knowledgeable and really care about our services. Our staff is amazing. I’m super-lucky to work with great people.”
No day is the same as Library Director, according to Phillips. Her days can consist of “behind the scenes work” like looking at policies, legislation, and trends in libraries to see where Botetourt “fits.” She also talks to the community, stakeholders, and organizations to better understand what they’re facing. Through those talks, Phillips and her staff can filter that through the libraries’ specialties and try to deliver what they need in the way they need it.
Phillips enjoys working with the county’s Communications and Parks & Rec departments because of how often the libraries engage with the community in learning and sharing while creating a “community space.” Despite the COVID curveball, it allowed Phillips and her staff to get creative to continue to provide their services to the community.
Over the past couple of years, the libraries worked hard to establish a foundation to help the community succeed. Virtual programs and “storytimes” are popular. Recently, the libraries were able to hand out take-home COVID tests. Local libraries launched a satellite pick-up location at the YMCA in Daleville for residents to pick up and drop off library materials.
Botetourt Libraries also regularly present different reading challenges centered around a theme for the entire family to enjoy. They continue to administer their curbside services, work with local seniors in a pen pal program with community volunteers, and have a presence at community events like “Movie in the Park” and events held at the Farmers Market.
Last summer, the library put up at “Storywalk” at Greenfield Park along the Sports Complex’s walking track where families can read a story together while walking around the track that involves activities such as physical movement and creative play.
Phillips is particularly proud of the recent #BOCOGrateful campaign last fall.
“It was really exciting to see the encouragement well up from the community during (#BOCOGrateful),” Phillips added.
Coming up, Botetourt County Libraries will present in-person programs once again this spring. Additionally, Botetourt Libraries are partnering with Virginia Career Works to teach digital literacy— working with and understanding computers/phones/internet in this digital age— and helping community members find jobs and connections in the professional world.
Phillips doesn’t want to spill the beans on everything the libraries are planning for the spring and summer. Still, she hopes that the upcoming events will generate excitement within the Botetourt community, including new workshops and author talks.
“We’re really trying to focus on what the community needs, what they’re interested in, and how we can create the most fun and impactful experience,” Phillips said. “We have a great team of people that are always coming up with new services. We’ll be expanding our one-on-one instruction.
“Currently, a person can come into the library, and if they want to learn how to research using specific resources, a computer, or some basic digital literacy, we’ll set up a one-on-one session and teach them how to do that.”
Phillips and her staff want to continue to make their events as accessible as possible through virtual means or in-person means.
For more information on what Botetourt County Libraries are up to, visit https://www.botetourtva.gov/161/Libraries.