Although the iconic Rotunda was the University of Virginia’s first library, Wahoos of the past century got to know Alderman as UVA’s main library. The need for expansion of book acquisitions and research materials drove construction of the bigger building in 1937, funded in part by the Public Works Administration, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal relief programs.

The central University Library begins the third chapter of its history this spring with the onset of a major renovation to improve the structure’s layout and function and to update the HVAC, safety and other systems. The old building has never had such a substantial overhaul, although the “New Stacks” were added in 1966-67.

Before it transforms into a more modern facility – with some of its well-loved charm preserved – University photographer Sanjay Suchak captured the vacant structure that would’ve been crowded and vibrant for the past few months, even as preparations for the coming renovation started, had it not been for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plans call for Alderman Library to reopen by the 2023 spring semester. Follow updates and get more information here.

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Alderman Library empty with a pile of doors next to a desk
Memorial Hall will still provide a main entrance to Alderman Library’s fourth floor, complete with service desk and seating areas. However, a new entrance on the north side facing University Avenue will welcome patrons and will lead into the library’s second floor.
White wall that has grey drawings on it
Stephen Hoyle, who works for the library, draws cartoons as a hobby and decorated this partition between the main library hall and the stacks.

When contractors erected a construction barrier between the main library hall and the stacks, supervisors asked library employee Stephen Hoyle, who just earned his master’s degree in English and will continue working for the library this summer, to draw cartoons on the partition, having seen some of his work on Instagram. Hoyle was happy to oblige, he said, but he didn’t have time to finish his mural before the pandemic closed Alderman Library for the rest of the semester, a couple of months earlier than scheduled.

“I originally envisioned filling the wall with simple scenes of people interacting within the library. Having worked behind the front desk, I knew that Alderman was not merely a study spot,” Hoyle wrote in email. “It was a place where friendships began and developed, where interviews were held and careers took off and where relationships that would blossom into marriage first budded. I wanted to reflect that more personal side of the library.”

Along with those charcoal sketches in the middle-right of the wall, the rest of the drawings depict scenes from some of his favorite classics. Then he quoted the first sentences of well-known novels, alongside portraits of the authors, including from George Orwell’s “1984”: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

Room in the alderman with black and white checkered floor and wooden book shelves on both sides of the room creating an aisle
The East Wing where the Reference Room, depicted here, had been located will be restored with some of its original finishes and become a new large reading room on what will still be the fourth floor.
View of steps that go up and down in a room lined with metal posts
These stairs in the “Old Stacks,” affectionately called the submarine stairs, will be taken out later this summer as the Stacks are demolished.

The demolition of the New and Old Stacks will start in June and finish in August, including the external work of removing the brick and marble façades of the New Stacks. The projec­t will sort waste streams and divert as much to recycling as possible, with a minimum goal of 75%.

“We have already recycled over 120 tons of metal shelves,” Kit Meyer, senior project manager in Facilities Management, said.

Alderman Library basement is lined with metal posts from floor to ceiling in concrete that is starting to crack
One of the first big jobs after moving out all the staff has been hazardous material abatement, both asbestos and lead paint. The Old Stacks depicted here have had shelves removed and all hazardous material abated in preparation for demolition. The columns that held the book shelves are also the structure that holds up the building.
Room with drywall removed so that all of the studs are exposed
The Mount Vernon Room, stripped of furnishings and wall décor, will be relocated from the second floor to the third and rebuilt exactly as it was. The contractor has selectively removed and preserved historic features and the library has saved about 400 pieces of furniture, mostly tables and chairs, that will be reused in the renovated library.
Bulletin board covered in fliers
This message board covered with local events became a time capsule. Everything on this board was cancelled due to the coronavirus.
White wooden bookshelves line two walls
The Office of the Dean of Libraries and University Librarian will be located on the fifth floor of historic Alderman. Above the fifth floor in the new library addition built on the footprint of the demolished stacks, a clerestory will admit natural light into the building.
Large Empty room with dust covering the wooden floor
The McGregor Room first housed the Tracy W. McGregor Library, a donated collection of maps, rare book editions and various manuscripts.

The McGregor Room, a popular study spot on Grounds, has been quieter than usual this spring. Students who grew up with the bestselling series published by J.K. Rowling in 1997 started calling it the "Harry Potter Room” for its aura of the wizarding school, Hogwarts.

The McGregor Room was used in some time periods for special events, featuring well-known writers and visitors including William Faulkner, W.H. Auden, Robert Frost, Elizabeth Taylor and her then-husband Sen. John Warner, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark and Seamus Heaney.

It remained a top study spot and was on many a fourth-year bucket list. One guestbook entry said, “Love it. Would move in if it had a shower.”

The McGregor Room will be restored on the second floor, where it has always been, but there will be other changes to that floor. The Stettinius Gallery, for instance, will connect Alderman to Clemons Library with a new passageway on that level.

Doors of an old safe opening up
The doors of a safe hidden in the McGregor Room.
Book shelves
This safe was actually a whole room where Special Collections used to keep rare materials. Now, the McGregor Library, along with millions of other manuscripts, maps, archival records and other rare materials, are located in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.
Empty room with dark wooden shelves on the right that goes from the floor to ceiling
The Preservation and Conservation labs will remain located on the second floor, joined by Rare Book School. A new north entrance with exterior terrace space will lead into a large study lounge with a service desk.
Plastic laid on the floor and plastic wrapped around every column
Another Stacks floor being prepared for asbestos remediation.
Looking out a divided window to the other side of the Brick Alderman library
This view from the third floor overlooks a courtyard that hadn’t been used in years. A new courtyard, with a study space accessible from the second floor, will be usable under a skylight in the renovated building.

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Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications