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“The heart of the University” — U.Va. celebrates Shannon Library’s grand opening

The event featured remarks from Lois Shannon, the daughter of the library’s namesake

<p>Its new namesake carries the foundational principles of the University, which Lois Shannon described as a commitment to setting things right, even in the face of challenges.&nbsp;</p>

Its new namesake carries the foundational principles of the University, which Lois Shannon described as a commitment to setting things right, even in the face of challenges. 

Balloons and banners adorned Shannon Library Thursday afternoon as members of the University and Charlottesville communities celebrated the library’s grand opening. While the building initially opened Jan. 8, the grand opening formally recognized the building’s three-year long renovation and honored more recent changes, particularly the library’s new name.

The event began with an open house showcasing the library’s services. Despite harsh winds, patrons then gathered at the North Entrance terrace for remarks from University Librarian John Unsworth, University President Jim Ryan, Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds, two University professors and Lois Shannon, the middle daughter of Edgar Shannon, the library’s new namesake and the University’s fourth president.

The building, formerly known as Alderman Library, was renamed in honor of Edgar Shannon following the Board of Visitors’ Building and Grounds Committee decision to recommend changing the library’s name. Speaking on behalf of her sisters, Lois Shannon expressed the significance of the name change to the Shannon family.

“We can imagine no greater honor for our father than for this beautiful library — at the heart of the University — to be dedicated in his name,” Shannon said.

Several exhibits highlighted Edgar Shannon’s life and legacy, presenting newspaper clippings and copies of his speeches. As she explained the library’s collection on Shannon, Research Librarian for Architecture Rebecca Coleman said the grand opening offered patrons the opportunity to learn about Shannon’s pivotal work as University president.

“We thought that [today] might be an opportunity to showcase some material from our collections about Edgar Shannon,” Coleman said. “He represents sort of the modern spirit of the University.”

Other speakers emphasized how Shannon’s spirit took on many forms. In what he described as Shannon’s finest moment, Politics Prof. Larry Sabato explained how in May of 1970, Shannon risked his presidency by publicly protesting the Vietnam War on the Lawn. Sabato also commended Shannon for his commitment to making Grounds a more inclusive space, supporting coeducation and civil rights during his tenure.

“Edgar Shannon moved this university to the right side of history. He richly deserves to be remembered here and now and with the magnificent Shannon Library,” Sabato said.

Ryan noted how the library serves the community not only by aiding scholarship but also by providing a warm, safe space for students and Charlottesville residents. Referring to the Rotunda, which initially functioned as a library under Thomas Jefferson’s design, Ryan said Shannon serves the University in a similar vein, upholding the University’s core educational values. 

“When Jefferson designed the University, he made what was then a radical choice to put the library at the center of Grounds rather than a chapel,” Ryan said. “The library underpins … the endeavors of every student and faculty member on Grounds.”

The grand opening also featured the Scholars’ Lab, the Makerspace and first edition and rare books. Patrons were encouraged to engage with the library’s resources, such as by trying on virtual reality headsets at the Scholars’ Lab. They were also introduced to Shannon's collection of children’s books on public health, which aims to educate young readers on issues in healthcare, according to Ashley Hosbach-Wallman, education and social science research librarian. 

With activities appealing to students and families, the celebration encouraged a wide audience to enjoy the library space. Elyse Girard, executive director of communications and user experience for the University’s libraries, discussed the importance of engaging the broader Charlottesville community at the grand opening.

“We wanted to make sure that the community was included in our celebration. We picked these events really because we want to highlight some of the things that we can do … and just bring things to light that people may not know about,” Girard said.

The celebration attracted a variety of attendees, from University alumni to professors to current students. Graduate College student Meghan Topp Goodwin, who attended the opening remarks with her family, recalled days spent in the library as an undergraduate student and expressed her appreciation for the renovated building.

“It’s an expression of a commitment and alignment of the Board, with the commitment to lifelong learning that Jefferson espoused when he founded the University,” Goodwin said.

A reception at the Z Society Reading Room rounded out the festivities. With a successful grand opening under the library’s belt, Girard described the library’s plans to expand its reach across Charlottesville, such as by partnering with local schools to allow more community members to enjoy the space. 

“We really hope that this is a place that has a lot of stuff going on in general, whether it's, you know, related to students or the community, we will always and will continue to have various events and things that are open to both students and the public,” Girard said.

The grand opening introduced a transformed library to Grounds. With its expanded print collection and advanced technology, the library preserves the knowledge held throughout the building’s history while providing patrons with a nurturing space to learn. Its new namesake carries the foundational principles of the University, which Lois Shannon described as a commitment to setting things right, even in the face of challenges.

“Dad showed us the importance of standing up for what we believe in and the need to work for a better and more just society, even when it's not easy,” Shannon said. “His message was consistently, ‘You can do anything you set your mind to.’ Dad demonstrated the importance of seeing the value and humanity of all people.”


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