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Supporting Wonder: AI & Economic Development

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Supporting Wonder: AI & Economic Development

Roanoke County Public Library, Va.

Workforce and Economic Development | 2019 | Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis

Roanoke County Public Library, a medium-sized library system in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, embraced AI when we became the nation’s first public library to recruit Pepper®, the humanoid robot. The recruitment was in response to the cultural shift ushered in by the tech revolution and its implications for the region’s economic development.


Roanoke County’s population is aging, and companies are leaving the area. Half the residents are 55 and older, and Advanced Auto recently announced its headquarters’ relocation. We need to prepare, recruit and retain talent. RCPL leaned into the challenge by driving an initiative focused on the tech revolution and preparing the future workforce. We reimagined all tech programs in the context of digital citizenship, from basics to unique high-level workshops, to help establish the area as a desired destination.

Key Elements of Innovation

No entity is better suited to provide tech training than one with deep roots in innovation, privacy and equity and access. With a laser-like focus on digital literacy, the library can highlight AI’s challenges, while demonstrating how the brave new tech world can support a sustainable community. The attention Pepper® brought us opened floodgates to new programs and partnerships, including one with The Advancement Foundation (TAF), a local business incubator that hosts Virginia’s largest business program and competition.

Achieved Outcomes

In one year, we offered 60 advanced adult tech programs, drawing 350 people. We purchased and added classes in Photoshop, stop action video, Python, Scratch, Arduino, C+, Choreographe and Linux to our suite of programming. We worked with the Economic Development Department and TAF to offer training. We are launching a new website and adding more sophisticated workforce development workshops such as Lead Generation 101 Digital Media Relations. We are now recognized as a place for workforce development, particularly in tech.