Then and Now: Looking at Shannon Library, Pre- and Post-Renovation

March 27, 2024 By Molly Minturn, mwm7b@virginia.edu Molly Minturn, mwm7b@virginia.edu

Ahead of the April 4 grand opening of the University of Virginia’s Shannon Library, we’re taking a look at some archival photos of a few of the library’s most iconic spaces. 

The library renewal project, designed by HBRA Architects, began with a 100,000-square-foot renovation of the original, 1938 Alderman Library structure. The renovation also included the demolition of the Old and New Stacks, replaced with a 130,000-square-foot, five-story addition (with one additional level below grade) on the north side of the building.

A major goal of the renovation was to create light-filled, easily accessible study space for users, while bringing the library up to current safety and service standards. At the same time, the Office of the Architect of the University and Facilities Management took great care to maintain the characteristics of the existing historic interior features, as the original 1938 Alderman Library, a Public Works Administration project, was a treasured landmark at the University.

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For those wondering about the fate of all those books in the Old and New Stacks, Shannon Library contains high-density shelving on the first and third floors, with conventional library stacks on floors 4 and 5. The number of volumes expected to be put in place in Shannon and Clemons (combined) during the next six months is 1.2 million. UVA Library is also making sure to allow for growth of the collection over the next several years.

Take a look at beloved library spaces, before and after the renovation, in the photos below.

Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall is the largest room in the library and was built as a memorial to the University’s first president, Edwin Alderman, after whom the library was originally named. (In February, the Board of Visitors voted to change the name of Alderman Library to The Edgar Shannon Library in honor of UVA’s fourth president.) As seen in the 1938 photograph, Memorial Hall originally housed the library’s card catalogs. The tall structure behind the librarians contained the Snead Book Conveyor, a delivery system that brought books from the closed stacks to the circulation desk.

Memorial Hall in Alderman LibraryMemorial Hall in The Edgar Shannon Library

Memorial Hall in 1938 and in January 2024. (Contributed photos)

The renovation restored Memorial Hall to look more like it did in 1938 than in 2019. Its vinyl tile and carpet was replaced with new linoleum tiles to match the original checkered floor. Workers restored the windows and light fixtures, replaced and expanded the exterior doors, and replaced the ceiling. A renovated hallway beside the new Service & Information Desk now leads patrons to open, light-filled stacks.

General Reading Room/Reference, Periodicals and Oversize Room

Located on the fourth floor in the east wing, the Reference Room, with its long tables and ample sunlight, is a popular study spot for students. In the renovation, workers restored the windows and the original checkered floor, provided a new HVAC system and new lighting, and added a new dropped ceiling of plaster and acoustic tile. The bookshelves, empty on reopening day, are now mostly filled with reference materials.

The Reference Room in Alderman LibraryThe Reference Room in The Edgar Shannon Library

What was once known as the General Reading Room is now the Reference, Periodicals and Oversize Room. (Contributed photos)

Browsing Room/Graduate Student Lounge

When the library first opened, this third-floor room was known as the Browsing Room and was designed for “the occasional and leisurely reading of magazines and of interesting books new and old,” according to a 1938 Alumni News story. Six varying types of light fixtures were designed for this space, including two hand-blown glass hurricanes attached to a decorative cast brass spine. Wherever possible, the historic, original light fixtures were refurbished during the renovation.

The Browsing Room in Alderman LibraryThe Browsing Room in The Edgar Shannon Library

The Browsing Room has been converted into a dedicated space for graduate students. (Contributed photos)

Today, this room is the Graduate Student Lounge, available only to graduate students for a quiet place to study. The room includes a new kitchen lounge and locker area as well. Additional renovations to the room include restored windows and finishes; new flooring; a new plaster ceiling; a new HVAC system; and all new power, including new floor boxes. The journals and periodicals that were held in this space before the renovation can now be found in the Reference Room on the fourth floor.

Head to Shannon Library on April 4 for a day full of grand opening celebrations. The festivities start with an open house from noon to 4 p.m., with remarks from UVA President Jim Ryan, Vice Rector Carlos Brown, State Sen. Creigh Deeds and others at 4 p.m.

For more before and after photos, visit the UVA Library blog.

Media Contact

Molly Minturn

Content Specialist University of Virginia Library