Mathews became one of the first communities in the Commonwealth to have a public library. Overcoming the devastating effect of a hurricane in 1933 that destroyed the entire library collection, the library re-opened with 3,000 books in 1935 and was dedicated in 1937 as a memorial to the young men of the community who had served their country in World War I.
The library was moved in April 1982 from its original location on Church Street to a former bank building on Main Street. In 2003, nearly seven years after the first public announcement was made by the Friends of the Library that a renovation and expansion project was being planned, a dedication ceremony was held in celebration of the expanded facility.
In the ensuing years since 1933, the library has made momentous strides in both physical expansion and service as a center of learning in the community. With its current collection of over 45,000 items and high speed Internet access, the library seeks to provide for the informational, cultural and recreational needs of the citizens of Mathews County. Today, the library looks forward to yet another major expansion as the Friends once again have stepped forward to acquire the adjacent building, which will provide dedicated teen space, staff offices and an expanded area for adult computer use.
The role of the library in the community has changed dramatically. At the heart of all public libraries is a belief that democracies benefit from having a place that celebrates the open exchange of ideas. The Mathews library has chosen to accept this challenge by expanding the traditional role of the library in the community as it strives to provide for the informational, cultural and recreational needs of the citizens of Mathews. The vision is for the library to be a place where young and old of all races can share in the pleasures of lifetime reading and learning and the library is a presence in every household in the community. By shattering the old mold of service, the library no longer serves a narrow segment of the community.
The library is a neutral space between work or school and home that provides services for people of all ages and needs. Adults and teens alike use the library as a social center. Adults meet for book discussions and music programs. Young children learn about their community and about new places, and teens come to study and use technology. In response to current economic conditions, the library currently offers access to job related information and services through its Career Connect Center.
No programs are more important than those that focus on children and teens. A recently acquired “early literacy center” provides for an expanded program to assist young children to develop a variety of skills to become successful readers. With the support of the Friends, the library annually offers popular youth programs, including a Fantasy Trip in April, Highland Games in June and a month-long, theme –oriented program in July.
A community in which everyone has access to library resources is better in countless ways. Its members have more opportunities to join together in efforts to make the place they live better. If you look closely, you’ll discover that the library, as it continues to play an increasing role in the life of the community, is no longer just a place to get books or quietly study. From bridging the digital divide to finding a job, it is the essential “go to” facility for young and old.