Library History

JMRL's Central Library circa 1964

Public libraries in Central Virginia have a rich heritage derived from the private libraries of leading forefathers -- Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe---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.

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. 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. 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. McIntire's gift included land, design, construction of the building, furnishings and the collection of books. Opening in 1921, this became the community's first public municipal library. In 1934, the first branch library was funded by the City: the Colored Branch at Jefferson School. In 1948 the libraries were integrated.

Albemarle County joined the City in providing Bookmobile service in 1946. Branch libraries opened in Scottsville in 1960, in Crozet in 1964, and on Gordon Avenue in 1966. In 1996, Gordon Avenue Library added a major African-American collection.

In 1972, following General Assembly formation of regional public library systems, the City and Albemarle County joined with the counties of Greene, Louisa, and Nelson to form Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. The Commonwealth provided establishment grants and financial incentives to create larger, more cost effective units of public library service. In 2001 the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission studied public library services in Virginia and determined that the General Assembly's support of regional libraries was successful in encouraging larger and more economical units of service and the maintenance and development of library standards.

Jefferson-Madison Regional Library grew rapidly. In the late 1970s, Charlottesville and Albemarle County purchased the former Post Office and Federal Building on Market Street and renovated it to become Central Library and Regional Library Headquarters.

In 1979, Louisa County Library moved into the former Girl Scout Building. In 1981, Scottsville Library moved into a new building, constructed after the old building suffered a major fire. In 1984, Crozet Library moved into a renovated train station. In 1988, Nelson County Library moved into a new building, constructed as a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Camille. In 1987, the historical collections of the Albemarle County Historical Society, the Central Virginia Genealogical Association, and Jefferson-Madison Regional Library were consolidated to form the Charlottesville-Albemarle Historical Collection, housed in the 1921 Charlottesville Public Library building, the "McIntire Building." Also in 1987, the regional library migrated from a manual card catalog system to an automated catalog and circulation system.

A new branch library, Northside Library, opened in a rented facility at Albemarle Square in 1991, and eventually became the regional library's most heavily used branch based on the number of items checked out. In 1995, Central Library received renovations to create a public access computer lab for Internet access and the development of a community information service, Monticello Avenue. In 1999, Louisa County Library moved to a new facility of 15,000 square feet, located between the towns of Louisa and Mineral.

In 2002, the library upgraded the catalog and circulation system, going from analog to digital. In 2003, Greene County Library moved into a new facility of 8,000 square feet in Stanardsville. In 2013, Crozet Library moved into a state-of-the-art, LEED Certified building of 18,000 square feet in downtown Crozet. In 2015, Northside Library moved from its rented facility to a new, 30,000 square feet building located north of Charlottesville.

Today, Jefferson-Madison Regional Library serves a population of over 200,000 residents with eight locations and the Bookmobile. With combined holdings of 500,000 items, the library circulates over 1,600,000 items annually. Library users have access to online databases and downloadable books 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Jefferson-Madison Regional Library is a valuable educational resource built on the sustained efforts of local residents over the past two centuries. We think our forefathers would look kindly on what their early efforts created and we look forward to the future progress of Jefferson-Madison Regional Library.