5 Ways Alderman Library Will Be Transformed

Digital drawing of the The new north face of Alderman Library

The new north face of Alderman Library will bring back the welcoming view that disappeared when the “new stacks” were added in 1967. (Rendering courtesy HBRA Architects)

The University of Virginia’s Alderman Library is headed for a major overhaul.

On April 24, University Librarian and Dean of Libraries John Unsworth announced that Alderman Library will close in May 2020 for renovation, with construction funding recently approved by Gov. Ralph Northam and the Virginia General Assembly. The building is expected to reopen in the spring of 2023.

Unsworth said he is gratified by the support of both University and commonwealth leaders for the renovation.

“The University administration has been consistently and sincerely supportive of this project from the time I arrived here,” he said. “President Ryan put a special effort into speaking personally to legislators about the importance of the renovation, and many others in Facilities Management, the Office of the Architect, the provost’s office, and the library have worked very hard for a long time to ensure that this project would be properly planned, funded and executed.”

The renovation will fix many of the problems plaguing Alderman, including safety, navigability and comfort issues.

“Anyone who’s been in Alderman Library recently knows that the building blows hot and cold – often at the same time,” Unsworth said. “And it’s not only the HVAC system that needs an upgrade. Building systems, including mechanical, electrical and plumbing, are worn out and failing regularly. Elevators are inadequate, as is fire suppression. All of this will be remedied with new infrastructure that will increase comfort, safety and reliability.”

A black and white drawing of a cross-section of Alderman Library

A section perspective of the renovated library from the west, looking east toward the Rotunda. (Image courtesy HBRA Architects with Clark Nexsen)

The new design, by HBRA Architects with Clark Nexsen, will create more open spaces and a stable environment much more conducive to the long-term preservation of library collections, Unsworth said. “A major goal of the renovation is for the building to be inclusive; the upgrades will also address accessibility, Americans With Disabilities Act compliance and design choices that previously made the building less-than-inviting to some users.”

This month through the end of the calendar year, workers will move Alderman’s 1.7 million-item collection to temporary locations in Clemons Library and the Ivy Stacks.

“Clemons Library is currently being fitted with enough compact shelving on its first floor to house up to 500,000 volumes, including new purchases, high-use materials and materials requested from Ivy in the humanities and social sciences,” Unsworth said.

He stressed that the renovation does not include plans for removing materials from the library collection, and that the remaining volumes will move to Ivy Stacks, most temporarily.

“Once the renovation is complete, 1 million of those volumes will move back to Grounds and, along with the ­Clemons collection, will be redistributed between the two libraries.”

Materials will be moved from Alderman to Clemons and Ivy Stacks, where they will remain accessible during the renovation.

Materials will be moved from Alderman to Clemons and Ivy Stacks, where they will remain accessible during the renovation. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Unsworth said he sees the renovation of Alderman as marking the third stage in the history of the University Library.

“The first chapter was the building of the Rotunda, centering the University around a library rather than the customary chapel,” he said. “The second was when the collections outgrew the Rotunda and Alderman was constructed in 1937.

“And now we have the renovation of Alderman, which will create the library the University needs for the next 75 to 100 years.”

Here are five ways Alderman Library will be transformed through its renovation:

North Entrance

When Alderman was originally built, a stately façade greeted visitors approaching Grounds from the north, which fronts University Avenue. That changed with the addition of “new” stacks in 1967, which presented an uninviting wall with small slit windows recessed between blank facades of brick and marble. The new building will have a welcoming north face, with a new entrance featuring a terrace and a set of doors leading into a spacious second-floor lobby.

Alderman Library Reception desk and hallway

The renovation will take advantage of natural light in ways Alderman Library’s Memorial Hall does now. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

Natural Light and Open Spaces

The new design takes advantage of natural lighting. Windows near the roof will admit light into the stacks and study spaces on the fourth and fifth levels, and the new facades will have doors and windows that allow light to enter every level of the building. The current air shafts on the south end of the building will become study courtyards, with comfortable furniture and trees in planters, enclosed by skylights to ensure they are usable year-round.

Digital drawing of steps to Clemons

Concourses (both indoor and outdoor) will connect Alderman with Clemons, using space between the two buildings that is currently inaccessible to the public. (Image courtesy HBRA Architects)

Clemons Connector

The renovation will add exterior and interior concourses connecting Alderman and Clemons libraries, which has been an ambition since Clemons opened in 1982. The new design also introduces connections to the exterior terraces on the north side of Clemons – at the fourth-floor entrance level as well as at the underutilized second- and third-floor levels.

Preservation and Conservation Labs

The art and science of preservation and conservation of materials is vital to the long-term health of collections and the maintenance of the scholarly record. Currently, the UVA Library has an aging preservation lab in Alderman and a conservation lab located in a temporary building at the Dell. The renovation will unite those units on the second floor of Alderman, updating spaces and adding new construction to create conservation and preservation labs, in addition to creating a separate lab specifically for digital preservation.

a painting  of a man on a boat

A volume from the Stanley and Lucie Weinstein Collection, which will be housed in the former Asian Studies Room of Alderman Library. (Image courtesy Amber Reichert/UVA Library)

The Weinstein Collection

The library recently received a bequest from Stanley Weinstein, a specialist on East Asian Buddhism, of his significant collection of books on the subject. The Weinstein Collection of nearly 11,000 volumes will make the University one of the major holders of Buddhist materials in the country. When Alderman reopens, the bulk of the Weinstein collection will reside in the Asian Studies Room (next to the McGregor Room, which will remain more or less as-is). The room will be renamed the Stanley and Lucie Weinstein Buddhist and Asian Studies Library.

Keep up with news on the Alderman renovation here.

Media Contact

Jeff Hill

University of Virginia Library