‘Not Your Parents’ Library’: University Celebrates Shannon Grand Opening

April 5, 2024 By Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu Alice Berry, aberry@virginia.edu

Late on a cold and windy Thursday afternoon, members of the University of Virginia community, as well as those from Charlottesville and beyond, gathered to celebrate the grand opening of the recently updated Shannon Library.

The University’s main library underwent renovation for four years before it reopened to visitors in January. In March, the Board of Visitors voted to rename the library in memory of Edgar F. Shannon, the University’s fourth president, who served from 1959 to 1974. 

The building had been known as Alderman Library since its opening in 1937, in honor of the University’s first president. UVA President Jim Ryan appointed a Naming & Memorials Committee in January 2021, and the committee recommended the renaming after two years of research and discussion.

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At Thursday’s event, University Librarian John Unsworth, Ryan, Board of Visitors Vice Rector Carlos Brown and others celebrated the moment.

“(Shannon) was president of the University of Virginia at a time of great social turmoil, from civil rights to the women's movement to environmentalism, as well as deep opposition to the Vietnam War,” said longtime University Professor of Politics Larry Sabato, who was a UVA undergraduate student during the latter years of Shannon’s tenure. “Edgar Shannon steered us through it all successfully, putting us on the path to full integration and complete coeducation at a time when those things were actually controversial.”

Shannon also put himself at risk when he decided to protest the Vietnam War along with thousands of students on the Lawn, Sabato noted. At that time, people called for his removal, but Shannon didn’t back down.

“There’s an Edgar Shannon lesson for us all: Do the right thing without a safety net,” Sabato said.

View of people filling the library deck for the grand opening
University President Jim Ryan speaks to a crowd gathered to celebrate Shannon Library’s grand opening. (Photo by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

His namesake library preserves its historical feel while meeting contemporary safety and service standards. The updates to the library include a lighter, brighter atmosphere, greater accessibility and an abundance of study spaces.

“Shannon Library represents an unusual combination of renovation and new construction seamlessly integrated in a structure that's far stronger, safer and more sustainable than what it replaced,” Unsworth said.

Ryan noted the library’s history since the Rotunda – which was UVA’s library until 1937 – was built in 1826.

“Jefferson made what was then a radical choice: to put the library at the center of Grounds, rather than a chapel. And to this day, the library lies at the very heart of UVA,” Ryan said.

Three side by side headshots of speakers at the grand opening
University Librarian John Unsworth, Vice Rector Carlos Brown and longtime University Professor Larry Sabato each spoke of the library’s importance to the University. (Photo by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

Creigh Deeds, who represents Charlottesville and the surrounding area in the Virginia Senate, was instrumental in lobbying the state for funding. (The renovation was funded by money from the state and private donations.)

“I would tell stories, but it’s cold, so I’m not going to do that. I’m just excited to be here today to celebrate the grand opening of this impressive state-of-the-art library,” Deeds said.

Brown remarked upon the library’s modern additions.

Students stand below the grand opening banner
On grand opening day, visitors got to partake in virtual reality demonstrations, look at items from Special Collections and sample treats from the new café, Saxbys. (Photo by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

“This is not your parents’ library. It is that and much more. It is filled with light and energy,” he said.

Professor Emeritus Jerome McGann likewise remarked on Shannon’s contributions to the University’s legacy as well as scholarship.

“It seems amazing that the Board of Visitors should have chosen him for president in 1959. He had only joined the faculty three years before, and he was an associate professor. Did they foresee the transformations that this 41-year-old man would bring about?” McGann said.

Two side by side headshots of speakers
Professor emeritus Jerome McGann regaled the crowd with tales of Shannon’s scholarship on Alfred, Lord Tennyson, while Lois Shannon, the library namesake’s daughter, said there was “no greater honor” than to have the library dedicated in Shannon’s name. (Photo by Emily Faith Morgan, University Communications)

Lois Shannon – one of the library namesake’s daughters – spoke on behalf of her family. Lois grew up in Carr’s Hill, just across University Avenue from the library.

“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,” Lois said.

If you missed the grand opening, Shannon Library is open to the public seven days a week. 

Media Contact

Alice Berry

University News Associate Office of University Communications