Public libraries in Central Virginia have a rich heritage derived from the private libraries of leading forefathers- Jefferson, Monroe and Madison, who each had extensive personal libraries for their time. Jefferson's famous quotation, "I cannot live without books," continues to influence the support for libraries worldwide.
Public library service in this area has roots from the public subscription library established in 1823, called the Albemarle Library Society located on Court Square in Charlottesville. The library was incorporated by an act of the Virginia General Assembly as the Albemarle Library.
Jefferson probably made substantial contributions to this library as some books once owned by it are now in the University of Virginia's Alderman Library. The Albemarle Library preceded the opening of the University and operated until 1834. Throughout the 19th century, other libraries in Charlottesville and Albemarle County were established and maintained by private clubs and other groups. One of the most noteworthy was the Lyceum, incorporated in 1837. Lyceum was later joined by the National Society of Literature and Sciences, the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society of the University of Virginia and continued to operate throughout the 1850's but closed it's doors during the Civil War. The Young Men's Christian Association was established in 1858 at the University and in downtown Charlottesville in 1872. Both branches featured a reading room and library. The downtown branch probably had the former collection of the Lyceum at the core of their holdings. Lesser known private libraries include the Belmont Farmer's Club, Friends' Circulating Library, the Women's Exchange and the Blue Ridge Club.
In 1919, local philanthropist, Paul Goodloe McIntire, offered the community the gift of a library, an offer the Charlottesville City Council promptly accepted. McIntire's gift included land, design, construction of the building, furnishings and the collection of books. Opening to the public in 1921, the McIntire, or the Charlottesville Public Library, became the community's first public municipal library.
In 1934, the first branch library was funded by the City-the Colored Branch Library at Jefferson School. This library operated until 1948, when the libraries were integrated. Albemarle County joined the City in funding Bookmobile service in 1946 and opened branches in Scottsville in 1960 and Crozet in 1964. Gordon Avenue Branch was built jointly by the City and Albemarle County and opened in 1966. In 1996 Gordon Avenue Branch added a major African-American collection.
The Jefferson-Madison Regional Library developed following General Assembly formation of regional public library systems. The Commonwealth provided the establishment of grants and financial incentives for larger, more cost effective units of public library service. The City and Albemarle County joined with Greene, Louisa and Nelson counties to form Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in 1972, following successful bookmobile demonstration projects.
Jefferson-Madison Regional Library grew rapidly. In the late 1970's, Albemarle County and the City purchased the former Post Office and Federal Building on Market Street and renovated the building extensively for regional library headquarters and expanded services, moving the collection from the McIntire Library next door. During this same time period, Scottsville Branch suffered a fire and their present library was opened in 1981. In 1979, Louisa County moved into a former Girl Scout building. Crozet Branch moved into a renovated train station in 1984. Nelson County built a new branch - a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Camille - in 1988. Northside Branch, in Albemarle Square, was opened in 1991 by Albemarle County. Greene County added a new children's room in 1993. The Albemarle County Historical Society Library opened in 1974 at 220 Court Square. The library's collection was consolidated in 1987 with those of the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library and the Central Virginia Genealogical Association, to form the Charlottesville-Albemarle Historical Collection. The collection is housed in the former McIntire Library, extensively restored and renovated in 1994, and is a branch jointly operated with the Historical Society.
In 1999, Louisa County Library moved into a new library building of 15,000 square feet, located between Louisa and Mineral. In 2003, Greene County Library moved into a new library building of 8,000 square feet, in Stanardsville.
Today, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library serves a population of 187,000 residents, with nine locations and Bookmobile services to rural Albemarle County and institutions. With combined holdings of over 400,000 items, the library circulates over 1,450,000 items annually.
Jefferson-Madison Regional Library entered the high tech information age aggressively with the implementation of automated circulation system and on-line public access catalog in 1987. To further integrate technology into the library system, the Central Library was again renovated in 1995 and the opening of a public access computer lab for internet access and the development and implementation of a community information service, Monticello Avenue, were initiated. In 2002, the library upgraded the catalog and circulation system to provide state-of-the-art online digital services.
The remaking of the library website in 2004, enabled J-MRL to have a virtual library with access to over 35 databases that are accessible in the library as well as using remote access. The online databases that the library subscribes to, provide access to newspapers, magazines, and a wide range of electronic resources. The Library subscribes to these databases for a fee and then they are available for free to our patrons.
We like to think our forefathers would look kindly towards the connectivity we are building in our region, to take advantage of the wealth of library and information resources.
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