What happened to the Fairview Branch Library? When will it open?

Libraries have been susceptible to destruction by invading armies and barbarian hordes throughout history. Sometimes these venerable centers of learning and accumulated knowledge just disappear – pouf!

The case of the mysterious disappearance of the Great Library of Alexandria

There are various points of view about the decline and end of the great library at Alexandria, composed of the Ptolemaic Mouseion Academy and its branch, the Temple of Serapis. The great library, established in 283 BCE, evolved into a repository of information for over 100 scholars at times. At its apex, it was full of as many as 700,000 scrolls in Greek. Collections varied from cookbooks to epics. Materials for the collection were obtained in different ways. Some were stolen outright. Other items were borrowed and copied, or, materials were purchased from booksellers who may have been forced to turn over the goods in exchange for food.

Wars and riots are often believed to account for the end of the library after 600 years in existence. Julius Caesar’s armies are accused of starting fires in 48 BCE that may have damaged the library significantly. Accounts of religious riots, conflicts between groups and assaults by conquerors describe damage to the library. Bureaucratic withdraw of funding may be the most likely reason for the library’s ultimate end.

“B” is for book burning

China was named for one of its shortest dynasties, the Ch’in (Qin) dynasty (221 BCE-217 BCE) which packed a big punch. While Emperor Qin Shi Huang is recognized for unifying the country and ordering a standard set of characters to record written law, his government ordered the burning of all ancient books and writings to control access to information. Only books about war, medicine and agriculture were spared. Roughly 460 scholars who failed to adhere to this policy, many of whom hid books in the walls of their homes, were buried alive or sent to build the Great Wall of China.

The mysterious affair at the Library of Congress

The Library of Congress was established in 1800 as a reference collection for Congress. During the War of 1812, which actually spanned three years: 1812, 1813 and 1814, the British invaded Washington and burned the Capital building in 1814. This building was also home to the 3,000 volumes in the Library of Congress, which were destroyed in the fire.

The original collection focused on publications about law, economics and history. After the destruction, retired president Thomas Jefferson sold his personal collection of 6,487 books to Congress for $23,950. Jefferson’s books expanded the scope of topics covered to arts, languages, literature, architecture and geography. Congress was prevailed upon by the Librarian of Congress to approve construction of a separate Library building. The Library of Congress opened to the public on November 1, 1897.

A cold case and unsolved mystery – solved

It is certain that Fairview’s recent disappearance was not due to destruction by invading hordes, nor did the English burn it down to assert power over the Malibu Movie Colony. The Library has strong support by City officials and residents, so a loss of funding does not account for its closure. Fairview Branch has always had a “Brigadoon” like quality, although it never remains precisely the same when it reappears. It has materialized in more locations over time than any other branch library. This year on June 1, 2016, Fairview will once again appear to the residents of Santa Monica.

Fairview Branch Library’s past is not shrouded in mystery. It first appeared as the Fairview Heights sub-branch in a 15-foot-wide storefront between a grocer and a barbershop at 1903 Twentieth Street by Delaware Avenue on July 1, 1931. The original collection had 800 books and the very small library was open Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Improvements made in 1948 included painting, new fluorescent light fixtures, shelving, desks, chairs and a major reorganization which failed to provide the added space needed to serve the community. By 1955 a new, modern iteration of Fairview was in the works. The building was located at 2101 Ocean Park Avenue and opened in 1956. The branch was closed temporarily in 2002 for improvements following passage of a 1998 library improvement bond.

Fairview closed most recently on June 1, 2015. This closing sounds reminiscent of the 1948 closing and includes upgraded electrical, plumbing, interior painting, central air conditioning, new shelving, rearrangement of furniture and more self-checkout stations. Once again the beloved Fairview Branch will appear, improved, on June 1, 2016.