St. John's News

Welcoming a Robotic Guest: Pepper

Michael Hibben, senior manager with Roanoke County Public Library, brought Pepper the robot to St. John's on May 7. Pepper first met the kids from Community Youth Program (CYP) before doing a presentation for Episcopal Church Women's monthly event. Michael writes this about his work with Pepper:

When I entered the library profession nearly two decades ago, I never imagined that I’d be working with a humanoid robot. In summer of 2018, thanks to funding from our Friends of the Library, Roanoke County Public Library (RCPL) became the first library in the United States to recruit SoftBank Robotic’s Pepper, the humanoid robot.

Over the last several months, RCPL has introduced Pepper to the community by allowing patrons to get up close and personal with artificial intelligence in a physical form. The positive response has been more than I could’ve imagined. We first noticed that we had uncovered a strong interest in artificial intelligence and high tech in the Roanoke Valley after Pepper had longer lines than Santa at the annual tree lighting event.

In addition to developing Pepper’s hosting and greeting skills, our team is working on coding new abilities for Pepper to serve the community. Some of these include an app to lead easy stretching exercises and meditation for seniors and an app to teach young children about bullying, gun safety and medication safety.

Pepper has been the catalyst for other technology firsts. RCPL is one of the first public libraries in the nation to feature Anki Robotics’ new A.I. robot sidekick, Vector, at all our locations. We are also one of the first libraries in the U.S. to have a circulating collection of the BBC Microbit to encourage self-guided coding education. And thanks to our many innovations, we are the first public library in the region to become a community partner with Girls Who Code, a national nonprofit who aims to close the gender gap in computer science.

I’m excited to be a part of a team that’s pushing A.I. education, tech literacy, and digital citizenship forward in the Roanoke Valley. Both Pepper and I hope to see you around the library soon!

To find out when you can meet Pepper or take part in one of our technology programs, visit RCPL’s website at or visit us on social media.