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Alderman Library to reopen Jan. 8 after three years of renovations

New developments to the library include improvements in safety, sustainability and accessibility, alongside new study spaces and a student-run café

The new Alderman Library is very spacious, with the renovations adding 130,000 square feet and renovating another 100,000 square feet, all on the same-sized building footprint.
The new Alderman Library is very spacious, with the renovations adding 130,000 square feet and renovating another 100,000 square feet, all on the same-sized building footprint.

Alderman Library is getting a makeover. The modernized building will provide new amenities and studying locations for students when it opens Jan. 8 after being closed since 2020. Continued renovations and the moving of books and materials into Alderman will continue in to the spring semester, even past the official April 4 grand opening

The reopening was originally scheduled to take place around Thanksgiving break so students could use the library for finals, but it was delayed until Jan. 2. Since then, the opening has been postponed again to the current Jan. 8 date to allow for further inspections and additional work before students are welcomed in.

Deputy University Spokesperson Bethany Glover said that the official grand opening will take place a few months after the initial opening so that graduating students will have the chance to see and work in the library. 

“Many graduating students haven't had the chance to visit Alderman during their time at U.Va. due to the renovations, and we hope that opening doors ahead of the official grand opening will allow more visitors the opportunity to see the building before Final Exercises,” Glover said. “We look forward to celebrating the project's full completion at the grand opening in April.”

There has been significant debate over the name of the library due to Edwin Alderman’s support of eugenics programs. In June 2021, the Dean of Libraries, John Unsworth, submitted a request to the Naming and Memorials Committee that the name be reconsidered. The request was passed to the Board of Visitors, who, in their recent meetings, tabled the proposal, deferring the discussion until March.

The new renovations, which began in 2018, have brought the building’s safety, accessibility and sustainability up to current standards. Historical parts of the library have been preserved — such as the McGregor Room, often known as the Harry Potter Room, a quiet reading area with comfortable chairs and couches available for seating. Even in preserved areas, the electric setup has been changed, with outlets and lights being significantly more energy efficient. Most lights in the building are now attached to motion sensors, to reduce overall electricity consumption.

Jeff Hill, creative director for University Libraries, said the building had not had any major renovations since it was built in 1938. The library was built to replace the Rotunda as the only University library, and was intended to mark a new commitment to research, as the Rotunda was too small for the needed collection size. According to the University Libraries website, the renovation of Alderman Library is intended to mark a “third chapter” in the University’s history of libraries, with modernization of outdated systems and expansion of facilities reflecting the University’s commitment to research. 

Elyse Girard, executive director of communications and user experience for University Libraries, noted that stacks areas in the old library were very cramped, dimly lit and difficult to navigate.

“We were kind of known as the weird, hard-to-navigate, dark building,” she said. “We just didn’t want to be that anymore, so this is a big improvement.”

The new Alderman Library is very spacious, with the renovations adding 130,000 square feet and renovating another 100,000 square feet, all on the same building footprint. Large windows and skylights fill most spaces with natural light, and there will be 1,445 seats available for reading and studying. 

The library has the capacity to store 1.5 million books. Currently, it is unknown how many books will be stored there, as the moving process will not conclude for several months. The building will contain six conference rooms, three classrooms, eight reservable study rooms, six study carrel rooms — with 12 to 16 desks per room — five reading rooms and one large seminar room.

Additions to the building include a new entrance on University Avenue, a hallway connection from the second floor to Clemons Library, two courtyard-style study areas under skylights and a student-run café called Saxbys, not to be confused with a similarly-named fried chicken restaurant. New sections in the library include a public Tibetan collection and a Buddhist and East Asian Studies library. 

Saxbys, a Pennsylvania-based chain that currently operates in 27 universities across the east coast, says they seek to empower students with their Experiential Learning Platform. The program allows student employees to earn microcredentials in business management and operation, gaining experience and valuable learning opportunities in the process. 

The Alderman Library café location will not be open in January, and no opening date has been announced.

According to Girard, maintaining a degree of continuity was important in the design of the new renovation. The building includes recycled elements from other projects on Grounds, including exit signs and decorative cast-iron railings that had previously been used in the Rotunda. The railings, which were removed from the Rotunda during a 1970s renovation and put in storage, can now be found on several staircases and on the railings for areas that overlook lower floors.

Girard said that the University is excited for students to start using the library, and that they look forward to interacting with students once it opens. 

"We just hope everyone enjoys it,” Girard said. “We're excited to open it after it being closed for so long."


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