Gregg Grunow

Gregg Grunow, the new director of the Culpeper County Library, pauses beside the library’s local history collection.

Culpeper County’s library has a new director, who admits he has some big shoes to fill.

Gregg Grunow, a veteran of public libraries in Hampton Roads, quietly took the reins several weeks ago from Susan Keller, who led the institution for 22 years.

Working for the public libraries in Portsmouth and Newport News, he had long heard of Keller, who was assistant director of the Newport News Public Library before she moved to Culpeper.

“I thought highly of her, and was sad to see her retire,” Grunow said during a recent interview.

In her last two weeks on the job, Keller took pains to ground her successor in the many facets of the job, the library and the Culpeper community.

“She was great, and very thorough,” Grunow said. “She went over everything, and gave me a good education in a short period of time. She took me around and introduced me to different officials and organizations, and pointed out some of the sites.

“Everyone has been very welcoming and friendly,” he said. “I’m most grateful for that.”

In his new role, Grunow said he wants people to know that he is eager to come speak to groups and participate in events throughout the county.

He comes to Culpeper from Portsmouth, where he was manager of the library’s information systems and support services. Before that, he was Portsmouth’s main library manager, and senior librarian with the Martha Woodroof Hiden Memorial Collection at the Newport News Public Library System.

An experienced manager, Grunow, 55, has overseen special collections for more than 10 years, led a local history and genealogy department, created public databases, designed a new library website, and ran a digital project that preserved more than 10,000 scanned images.

“When you’re a librarian, you’re a jack-of-all-trades, he said. “That’s the way we work.”

“From what I can see, Culpeper is very dedicated to its local library,” Grunow said. “The staff and volunteers here are wonderful. They’re committed to their craft and to this library.“That’s really nice; it has made the transition much easier,” he said in his office, with a framed poster stating, “Knowledge is free—America’s libraries,” hung on the wall behind him.

In Newport News, Grunow digitized thousands of photographs, postcards and maps from the 1880s through 1920, writing all the descriptions and acquiring the software to make the collection accessible to the public online.

“That was received very well,” he said. “It was getting a lot of use by the time I left.”

The Culpeper County Library was begun doing something similar with local photographs, he noted.

Grunow said Culpeper County reminds him of the mountainous rural area and town that most of his family is from: Pittsfield, Mass.

“That was one of the attractions of taking the job and moving here,” he said. “It really reminds me of this area, with a similar downtown and lots of local businesses.”

Born in Bridgeport on Connecticut’s Atlantic coast, Grunow grew up in Stratford, the town next door. He has been in Virginia for almost 18 years, having moved to the state to work for the Newport News library after eight years processing Medicaid applications in Bridgeport and acting as a liaison between hospital personnel and the state Department of Social Services.

“I spent my last years at the hospital interviewing patients at their bedside,” he said. “That finished me off.”

While working he returned to college and earned a master of library science degree from Southern Connecticut State University. Earlier, Grunow had received a masters in public administration from the University of Alabama and a bachelor’s in business administration from Western Connecticut State University.

Once transplanted south, at the Virginia Library Association, Grunow chaired its Website Content Committee and its Local History, Genealogy and Oral History Forum, and served on the association’s governing council.

Now, he is renting a room in a home in Culpeper while his wife, Catherine, looks for a job in the area. A native of the Philippines, she has spent the past 10 years as the administrative assistant to a vice president at Tidewater Community College.

Grunow is still getting his sea legs in Culpeper, but said an early hope is to create a little extra space for children to take part in the library’s programs.

“We want the community to feel they can come here to do projects together, that they’re not alone,” he said. “... Libraries have changed with the times. We’re not just about books anymore.”“I don’t recall who said it first, but somebody has described the public library as ‘the people’s university.’ I’ve never forgotten that.”

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