Get Ready for the Reopening of Alderman Library

January 4, 2024 By Alice Berry, vfu6kd@virginia.edu Alice Berry, vfu6kd@virginia.edu

If you’re trying to get ahead of the spring semester, the University of Virginia Library has good news for you: Alderman Library reopens on Monday.

The renovated library includes more study spaces, larger and more reliable elevators and cell phone service throughout the building, and all-new infrastructure to ensure a safe, comfortable environment. But the first thing visitors will notice upon entering the library is it no longer feels like you are walking onto the set of a moody HBO drama, library and facilities management staff said.

“The stacks went from being these really dark, confined, cramped spaces to beautiful, high-ceiling, light-filled spaces,” Brenda Loewen, senior project manager, said.

The lighter feel is thanks to new and larger windows throughout the building, treated with a special coating to protect books from damaging ultraviolet rays while still allowing natural light to brighten up spaces.

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“In the past, there was tension between designing the library for books and designing the library for people,” Kit Meyer, Facilities Management’s project director for the library renovation, said. “Now, we can do both.”

Public entrances into the library have quadrupled. In addition to the traditional south entrance to the building (which itself has gone from one door to three), there’s a new entrance from University Avenue, one on the café side of the building, and a new portal connecting Clemons Library to the second floor of Alderman. 

Visitors to the updated library might also notice that reading seats have nearly doubled, from 800 to 1,445, despite a slight reduction in the total square footage of the space. The increased seating includes study carrels, reading tables, soft seating and group study rooms. Study spaces may be high density or low density; some are noisier and some are more quiet; some are large, light areas, and others are smaller, more dimly lit areas. Students with a range of preferences can find a study space that suits their needs.

Lookin up towards a balcony and ceiling in an Alderman atrium
The library has historically been the center of the University. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“There are more kinds of study space today than there were before the library closed for the renovation,” Meyer said.

A new designated lounge for graduate students to study, research and write –or just hang out –is also part of the changes. On most floors, central spaces near the stacks now have comfortable seating, too –something that previously was lacking, said Jeff Hill, the library’s creative director.

Other accessibility updates include larger elevators, large enough for an emergency gurney, better for book trucks, and providing ease of use for all patrons. Every bathroom is now wheelchair accessible. There’s also a hearing assistive system called a hearing loop in instructional spaces and large conference rooms, which amplifies sound for people who use hearing aids. New signs are posted at the correct height with tactile lettering and Braille. The project has added new ramps to the sidewalks along Newcomb Road and University Avenue, increased ADA parking on Newcomb Road, and provided a new drop off point on the McCormick Road ramp.

Sun lit bookshelves in Alderman
The new windows got a special treatment to let plenty of light flow in without damaging books. (Photo by Tom Daly)

“This dovetails with accessibility, wayfinding in the building is also going to be much easier,” Hill said.

Not everything has changed. The beloved McGregor Room – also known as “the Harry Potter room” – has been restored to be as similar as possible to the original room. Some features, like bronze radiator grates, have been restored. The desk of Tracy W. McGregor, who donated his collection of books and manuscripts to Alderman in 1938, has been lightly touched up and still has pride of place in the McGregor Room.

Though the Rotunda was UVA’s original library, for the last 85 years most people regarded Alderman as the main library. In a nod to that history, iron guard rails from the 1898 McKim, Mead and White-redesigned Rotunda restoration (since largely reversed) are on the main staircase and on the fifth-floor gallery.

A study court inside Alderman
The updated library has multiple “study courts” like this one. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“We were drawing a thread, sewing the connection between the Rotunda as the original library and this as the main library,” Meyer said.

Books are still moving back in, so the library’s shelves may look a little bare. Still, students can check out the books they need and have them brought over from the Ivy Stacks. The full-service café is set to open in February. The library’s grand reopening is slated for April.

Media Contact

Elyse Girard

Executive Director of Communications and User Experience UVA Library