Library not always 'Free and Open to the Public'

Oct 20, 2021

Documentary filmmaker and photographer Lorenzo Dickerson drew on his own experience using the library.
Credit Lorenzo Dickerson

A new documentary chronicles the hundred-year history of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Charlottesville.  It follows the library's journey from a segregated institution to one used and loved by everyone. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

The film, titled 'Free and Open to the Public,' premieres at The Paramount Theater on Thursday, October 21st at 7 p.m. It was created by documentary filmmaker and photographer Lorenzo Dickerson, founder of Maupintown Media, LLC.

LORENZO DICKERSON: I agreed to do the project really because of my own experience growing up here and going to the library as a child. I used to go to Central Library for computer classes in the late 80s, and then also would go to Gordon Avenue with my Mom for story time in the reading well.

There's also an exhibit on display at the Central Library featuring historical photos and a timeline of the library's history. Director David Plunkett said he and his staff struggled with how to both celebrate the library and acknowledge the inequity in its origins.

Library Director David Plunkett.
Credit David Plunkett

DAVID PLUNKETT: Right now, the library is free and open to the public, and very proud to serve every single person in our communities, but in 1921, it was not. It was a segregated institution.

Dickerson interviewed veteran employees and community members about everything from accessing newspapers for school assignments, to the time a domesticated wolf came in for storytime. He also delves into the work of Reverend Benjamin Bunn, who fought to desegregate the library in the 1940s. 

DICKERSON: We have that timeline history of the libraries of course, but really the story is about the people and the connection that the library has to the community.

Patrons must have proof of vaccination or proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event.