This Month in Fairfax: The Library in the Backyard of the County Courthouse

The plans for the first library in Fairfax County, created 78 years ago, would soon become a small cinder block building built on land behind the County Courthouse. This month in Fairfax, on Feb. 1, 1939, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted to fund a countywide library system. The budget for the new library system was voted to be just $250. In order to establish the library system, the judge of the Circuit Court appointed the first Board of Trustees that same year.

It was not until 1940, however, that the Fairfax County Public Library (originally to be called Fairfax County Free Library), was built. The first countywide bookmobile also began operation in 1940. The WPA (Federal Works Progress Administration), a special program started by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt that provided Americans with work, loaned the truck used as the bookmobile to the county. In addition to all the other Fairfax County-wide library system advancements made in 1940, the first county librarian to be given a salary was named in June of that year.    

In 1942, the WPA discontinued their support for the bookmobile and a new bookmobile was purchased in 1943. In 1947, the county went a step further and bought a customized school bus to be the new bookmobile.

The next outside-of-the-box technological advancement for the county library system was the opening of a studio for video production and cable television transmission in 1986. The studio, located in the Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library, was closed in a process that occurred between 1991 and 1992. Thankfully, the library system would redeem itself in the technological world by launching the Fairfax County Public Library’s internet site 21 years ago, in 1996.

The Fairfax City Regional Library one sees today as they enter Old Town Fairfax originated from the first library in Fairfax County, the Fairfax County Public Library. For this reason, the Fairfax City Regional Library is considered the oldest branch in Fairfax, beginning in 1940 and moving to Chain Bridge Road in 1962. When the library moved to a new building in 1962, it was named Central Library because it was the library’s headquarters. In 1982, it was renamed Fairfax City Regional Library.

In 2008, Fairfax City Regional Library was moved to the corner of North Street and Old Lee Highway. Today’s Fairfax City Library is incredibly large and has many unique features. The second floor of the library is called the Virginia Room. The Virginia Room contains many photographs, manuscripts and books related to Fairfax County history. Genealogy, or the study of researching the history of one’s ancestors, is one of the primary focuses of the Virginia Room. Volunteer genealogists periodically meet with those interested in learning about their family members’ pasts in the Virginia Room. The volunteers help people to understand what materials the library has to offer and methods of doing research.

The Virginia Room also has a variety of maps on display. The maps are from many different time periods in the history of Fairfax County and show the development of the County over time. Having once been a rural area, the county has become heavily populated and this shows on the maps.

In addition, the library supports an active student volunteer program in which students are able to earn volunteer hours by maintaining the library. Students straighten out books and collect books that have been misplaced throughout the library so that they can be reshelved by a librarian.

Throughout the years, the Fairfax City Regional Library has developed from a small building with a garage for a bookmobile, to a brick building lit by fluorescent lights and surrounded by woods, to the large, urban library that stands today. Although much has changed in 78 years, one thing remains the same: the library has brought people of all backgrounds, economic statuses and beliefs together and that is incredibly special.