In an email sent to the study body on April 24, the University announced that construction funding for the renovation of Alderman Library had been approved by Gov. Ralph Northam, and that the library would close from May of next year to spring of 2023. In planning for the renovation, the University has funded the expansion of the Ivy Stacks in order to make space available for the temporary relocation of collections within Alderman Library. However, this does not account for the additional study spaces that will be lost due to the closure of Alderman Library. While there are many much-needed renovations within Alderman Library, the closure of the building will only lead to further the lack of study spaces on Grounds.
Currently, space in libraries at the University is often lacking, especially during exam season. The University provides numerous libraries throughout Grounds as study spaces for students. However, with over 16,000 undergraduate students and nearly 25,000 students in total on Grounds, there’s clearly a high demand for study spaces. Despite offering fourteen different libraries spread throughout Grounds, only three undergraduate libraries are currently able to seat more than 200 students at a time — these include Alderman Library, Clemons Library and the Charles L. Brown Science & Engineering Library in Clark Hall. Other libraries are primarily meant for graduate students, like the Law Library and Darden Library, and are therefore less accessible for undergraduate students.
In order to help students navigate the closures occurring from these construction projects, Library Services at the University created a Study Spaces map, highlighting different study spaces throughout Grounds and even some off-Grounds. According to this map, Alderman Library currently has capacity for 917 students in its study spaces, making it the largest library on Grounds. The reopening of the first floor of Clemons next year will not be able to make up for the lost study areas, especially with the temporary relocation of items in Alderman to this space. With space already lacking in several places on Grounds, the loss of this space is not something the University is going to be able to handle.
Many of these spaces in Alderman, moreover, are deemed “Quiet Spaces” on the map. It should surprise no student at the University that there are, currently, almost no spaces in Clemons Library that are deemed “Quiet Spaces.” It is common knowledge among students that Clemons Library is known to be louder, which hinders serious studying or reading. With the closure of Alderman Library, the University will now also severely lack quiet spaces that allow students to focus on their work, which is what libraries are typically supposed to offer.
The University also continues to admit a larger number of students each year, pushing enrollment at the University to a new high year after year. With the increase in incoming students, the University needs to add more study spaces for students — instead, the University is closing the largest building dedicated to studying and research on Grounds. This increase in students, coupled with the closure of Alderman, is only going to make it even more difficult for students to find areas for studying.
This is not to say that Alderman Library does not need these renovations. John Unsworth, the Dean of Libraries at the University, noted that the key reason for these renovations is the safety issues with the building. The building has no sprinklers or ability to suppress fire, much of the plumbing and wiring is decades old. The concerns raised by Unsworth are definitely valid, and the University is right in taking this step towards fixing these issues. However, the University should also recognize the additional toll this is now going to be placed on students searching for a place to study.
The renovations on the library should be done in parts, which is what happened with Clemons Library, which was renovated one floor at a time. This would enable progress to be made on the renovations of the building while also reducing the amount of studying spaces being taken away at one time. But if the University is unwilling to renovate Alderman Library in a piecemeal fashion, it should at least work towards adding more spaces on Grounds to mitigate the losses incurred by this closure. For example, the University could work with the Alumni Association to use Alumni Hall for studying purposes throughout exams weeks. Having a quiet place to study on Grounds is a fundamental part of a student’s academic life and the University must take steps to ensure this is protected.
Zack Pasciak is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.