What a Difference Fifty Years Makes: The Original Fenwick Library Building Today

George Mason College Library, Fairfax, Virginia, 1967. George Mason University Libraries records, R0095, Box 194, Folder 5, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

What was once considered old has become new again!

1966 architect’s rendering of George Mason College Library, Fairfax, Virginia. George Mason University Libraries records, R0095, Box 139, Folder 6, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

During the fall of 1967, George Mason College of the University of Virginia opened its fifth building on the Fairfax Campus. The original four – North (now Finley), South (now Krug), East and West – went into service in August of 1964. A significant part of West Building served as the college library until the completion of the 14,000 square-foot two-story library in 1967.  During the building’s dedication in December, it was named for a local member of the state legislature, Senator Charles Rogers Fenwick.  Fenwick, a speaker at the event, was unaware of the naming plan until it was announced at the ceremony itself.  He was admittedly surprised and humbled by the gesture.

George Mason College Library Dedication ceremony, December 15, 1967. This space served as the Periodicals/Microforms and Reading Room from 1967 until December 2015. George Mason University photograph collection, R0120, Box 1, Folder 29, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

As Mason became an independent university, and enrollment tripled over the next sixteen years, Fenwick would undergo two major additions.  A tower was added to the southwest part of the building in 1974, and an identical one on the southeast side in 1983. By the end of the 1980s, administrators agreed that the university’s needs were growing faster than the library.  Plans for more additions to the library were drawn up but shelved to make budget room for the upcoming University Learning Center (known today as the Johnson Center).

By the early 2000s library administration and staff were planning again for a new addition to Fenwick that would add more space for study, programming, and housing of staff and library resources.  By 2013 ground was broken, and construction was underway.  The new Fenwick Library would take over two years to construct and add over 2,000 seats for study, a 24-hour café and study space, a state-of-the-art Special Collections Research Center with dedicated space for exhibitions, and dedicated areas that can be used for special library events.  The 150,000-square foot addition was completed in January 2016 and complies with LEED silver standards.

So, what happened to the original library space?

Interior of The MIX@Fenwick, July 2017. This is the same location as the 1967 photograph above. Photo by Emily Curley.

It has been transformed into the MIX@Fenwick.  The MIX network (Mason Innovation Exchange) consists of two on-campus entrepreneurship- focused collaboration and maker spaces. The MIX@Fenwick is a student-centered collaboration and event space that will promote and encourage entrepreneurship at Mason.  It opened its doors to the Mason community in June 2017.

MIX@Fenwick provides students, faculty, and staff with spaces and tools for co-working, collaboration, and experiential learning. Multi-disciplinary groups can come together to meet, develop ideas, research problems, craft solutions, and start companies. The MIX@Fenwick is intended to be a place to promote interactions among students, faculty, staff, alumni, investors, and business advisors.

The Mason Innovation Exchange network seeks to empower students with the tools to solve problems and pursue entrepreneurial opportunities; provide a place to meet, socialize, and collaborate; create a network of entrepreneurial-minded individuals; and create a start-up culture at Mason.

For fifty years Fenwick Library has been an anchor building on the Fairfax Campus, bringing together students, faculty, and staff. Now that the original has been replaced, it is gratifying to see the former space repurposed and used once again as place for collaboration.

Exterior of the north side of the former Fenwick Library with MIX graphic on the window. Photo by the author.

From the Back of the Vault: An Introduction to Fenwick Library, 1989

By Greta Kuriger and Bob Vay

Wouldn’t we all love to step back in time more than 20 years and see what our office looked like back then? In the rapidly changing world of libraries and information management, even five years is a lifetime.  Imagine going back twenty-two years.

A frame from An Introduction to Fenwick Library showing a 1989 touch screen.

This recently-discovered video is an instructional piece on using George Mason University Libraries‘ Fenwick Library, which is on the university’s Fairfax campus.  It features a white jeans and suspenders-clad scholar navigating the different departments of the library in search of material on presidential use of the media back in 1989. With the help of library staff he is instructed in the use of the cutting edge technology of the time and he is thus equipped to travel to the stacks, access microfilm, visit Special Collections & Archives, and finally, check out some books. Although the way we access the many resources the library has to offer has changed dramatically since the creation of this video, there is no still no substitute for visiting the library in person.

The film was found in the recently re-processed George Mason Universities libraries records. The collection consists of materials documenting the history and activities of the University Libraries and is a part of the University Archives.  This video adds to our knowledge of how researchers accessed the library and interacted with library staff over twenty years ago.

Our researcher prepares to check out books at Fenwick's circulation desk.

The original video is on 1/2″ VHS tape and contains a significant amount of  video noise, or “snow” as they used to call it back before the days of dvd’s and digital television. Hence the digitized video, along with a small loss of video quality due to compression from encoding, is of less-than-desirable quality.  Still the audio is very good, and viewers should be able make out most of the action in the film.

Part one of the two parts can be viewed at:

http://www.youtube.com/user/GMUArchives#p/a/u/1/I2LyWYGjOUg