Completed in October 1967 Fenwick Library has occupied the same spot for over 56 years. While it has undergone many changes over the years, its mission to facilitate access to scholarship and information and teach the effective and critical use of information remains the same.
George Mason University Libraries began operation in September 1957 at Bailey's Crossroads Campus, occupying three of the four rooms on the upper level of the building. As the number of library resources increased, librarians, who moonlighted at Bailey's while employed at other local libraries, stored newly acquired resources in closets and bookcases sitting in hallways.
When the college moved into the new campus at Fairfax in 1964, a permanent college librarian was hired by the University. Patrick Joseph Larkin, a recent graduate of the Master of Library Science at nearby Catholic University was chosen to head up the new Library. Initially, the Library was located on the 2nd Floor of the new Fairfax Campus' East Building. During this time planning for Mason’s permanent stand-alone library at Fairfax was gearing up with Larkin and officials from George Mason College and the University of Virginia actively participating in the design and functionality groundwork.
Mason's permanent Library was designed for a “commuter college” with specific needs: a large commuting student body, an evolving program of studies, and a rapid growth rate. Mason had less than 1,000 students during the late-1960s, but more than twice that many after only five years. In 1966 a report of the Northern Virginia Regional Planning and Economic Development Council estimated that by 1985, 15,000 high school graduates would be knocking on Mason’s doors.
The architectural firm Vosbeck-Vosbeck & Associates of Alexandria designed a two-story white concrete-columned structure with alternating brick panels. The building contained 31,500 square feet, housed up to 60,000 book volumes, and seated almost 500 readers. Construction began in July 1966 at a cost of $1.2 million (a little more than $10 million in 2023).
The library took about fifteen months to complete. By the third week in October 1967, it was ready for use. On move-in day library staff, along with dozens of volunteers from the student body, carted some twenty thousand volumes from the East Building to the new library to be shelved. The building was formally dedicated on December 15, 1967, in an hour-long ceremony which was concluded with an announcement that it would be named Fenwick Library, after State Senator Charles Rogers Fenwick, a longtime political ally of George Mason College.
By 1974 enrollment at George Mason, now a university, had increased by more than 500% since 1967. Library space expanded to keep up with the demands of a growing university. This came in the form of two adjoining towers, one completed in 1974, and the other in 1983. The towers now known as Wings B and C increased the library’s storage space by twelve times. During the late 1980s there were plans to increase library space once again, but these plans were scrapped to design and build the facility now known as the Johnson Center. Beginning in the 1980s, the stage for Mason Day band performances was placed on the plaza in front of the Fenwick Library entrance and for nearly twenty years, the sounds of live music would permeate the library on that day.
Beginning in September 2012 Fenwick Library underwent a four-year transformation to bring it up to par with other major university libraries in the commonwealth. This addition, which opened in 2016, wrapped the existing Wing B and C towers and doubled the library’s space, enabling the university to meet growing needs for a variety of study and research spaces.