Service for half a century

Librarian Marian Paroo from Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” was created 50 years ago, about the same time the Women’s Club of Manassas created the first public library in Prince William County.

Over the years, hundreds of “Marians” have organized, dusted and checked out books and related materials as the Prince William Public Library System grew from one to 10 locations.

Like Marian’s River City, Iowa, library, Prince William’s libraries are not only keepers of books but also valuable civic assets — Tuesday marks the system’s 50th anniversary.

In the early 1950s, Ruth E. Lloyd and others from the Women’s Club of Manassas lobbied the Virginia General Assembly for a library.

New legislation provided for “Demonstration Libraries”. The statute encouraged forming community libraries by giving localities money and expertise to buy and catalog a collection of books. State assistance was only meant to whet the community appetite.

It was hoped that after the first year the locality would recognize the value of library service and the community would continue the funding. Prince William County had the first library set up under the new legislation.

An empty room in the back of the Bushong Building at 110 Main St. in Manassas became home to the library. With a state grant of $22,612 and 4,500 items, the library opened in 1952, and full county funding began in 1953.

The present Library System director, Richard Murphy, presides over a budget of $11.5 million with nearly 1 million cataloged items. A staff of 121 full-time and 149 part-time workers provide the myriad of services offered by the libraries.

“We check out about three-and-a-half million books a year,” said Murphy. “Everybody keeps saying books are going away, but it doesn’t seem like that. The fact of the matter is, we are very heavily used and libraries across the country are also.”

Books dominate library space, but a quick glance reveals the many electronic services now available. There are entire rooms of computers with patrons waiting in line to log on. Wiggling small children, white-haired grandparents, blue-collar workers, college students, old, young, men, women — a cross-section of humanity — all sit transfixed reading, searching and playing on computers.

Murphy said the strength of the library system for the last 50 years and the next 50 years is much the same — a service mentality in support of schools, government agencies and the community. He said the library takes its service responsibility very, very seriously.

Information that once required a patron to come to the library can now be accessed online at by anyone with a library card number. Students can use the public library to research, compile and produce a school report without leaving home.

A 50-year appreciation celebration complete with punch and cake will be held Tuesday at each of the 10 library locations.

Club ’52 will be the theme of a $60-a-person Oct. 19 fund-raiser to be held at the Chinn Park Regional Library. Authors Marc Leepson (“Saving Monticello”), James Patterson (“When The Wind Blows”), and Virginia’s Poet Laureate Grace Simpson (“Dancing the Bones”) will attend. Food will be provided by Carrabba’s Italian Grill.

Staff writer Bruce Montgomery can be reached at (703) 878-8065.

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