MULVIHILL: Maintain the purpose of Alderman Library

Alderman Library renovations should not sacrifice the books the space holds


The University plans to undertake a massive renovation of Alderman Library beginning in 2020,.

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

The University plans to undertake a massive renovation of Alderman Library beginning in 2020. The library, which was opened to the public in 1938, needs these renovations because its plumbing and heating technologies are outdated. The University hopes to also upgrade Alderman to be a more accessible and environmentally friendly facility. These upgrades are needed and will be useful for students and professors who spend extended periods of time in the building, but they may come at the expense of the library’s true purpose. 

The library is a hub for students but it is also a place for research and reading. Currently, the Alderman renovation plan includes the possible removal of a significant amount of shelf space, which would be detrimental to students. Particularly for those who rely on humanities research, the books in Alderman Library are an educational tool that cannot be compromised. For this reason, the University should maintain current shelf space in its remodel of Alderman Library.

Though many argue that paper books are becoming obsolete, the current set-up of Alderman Library is ideal for student and faculty researchers. As a student in a humanities major, I frequently check-out books for research papers and projects, and if the construction project ultimately caused there to be fewer books in the library, researchers like me would be left with fewer accessible resources. In an online letter and petition protesting the removal of stack space, retired professor of environmental sciences and politics Vivian Thomson wrote, “I cannot count the number of times I have come across unexpected, valuable finds by browsing in Alderman’s stacks. I have always encouraged my students to do the same.” 

I have also benefited from Alderman’s stacks in a similar manner. Frequently, when researching for class assignments, I arrive at Alderman looking for a single book and leave with nine. Since the stacks are so well-organized, it is easy to search for a topical piece of writing and find other useful books in similar subjects. If a large portion of stack space was removed from Alderman, students and professors who use the library for research would be stuck in an intellectual environment less conducive to efficient research and study. The research process would be significantly hindered by the proposed changes to stack space. Future students, who would never know Alderman Library as it currently exists, would be left with a subpar research environment and not even know it. The library renovation should not hinder the education process of future students, but as it stands now, the plan does.  

The remodeling process should also maintain Alderman’s stack space so that books remain available on student and professor demand. Though books will be moved to the Ivy Stacks for construction, under the current plan, many could remain there after the renovation is completed. Students and professors often stop at Alderman between classes to quickly check out needed titles. If a large portion of the books in Alderman were moved to an outside location, students and professors would have to request book delivery and wait several days for the titles to become available. This change would undoubtedly slow the educational process for students who need immediate access to resources. 

Also, as impractical as it sounds, the current Alderman Library allows students and professors the simple pleasure of being amongst books in an academic space. I could not personally imagine stepping into an Alderman Library that had more large rooms and fewer books. Studying in a world-class library is something that many students at the University will likely only experience during their four years in Charlottesville and that experience should not be compromised by the renovation project. 

A library is — at its heart — a collection of books and other information sources to be used for the broadening of knowledge. Alderman Library is undeniably in need of an update of its most vital structures, but this update should not result in a loss of on-demand research materials. Though supporters of the plan are correct in saying students need more study space, the space should not come at the expense of research capabilities. Alderman Library is a crucial resource for students and professors and its stack space should not be reduced.

Carly Mulvihill is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at 

related stories