Where in the Library Are We?

October 19, 2021 By Anne E. Bromley, anneb@virginia.edu Anne E. Bromley, anneb@virginia.edu

With much of the 1930s building stripped down to its bones, the University of Virginia’s main library hardly looks familiar.

Alderman Library, the library that replaced the Rotunda for almost 100 years, is undergoing a major renovation of its 100,000-plus square foot historic building, which opened in 1938. Some materials were salvaged to restore certain beloved spaces, such as the elegant McGregor Room that students in recent decades dubbed “the Harry Potter Room.”

In the process, workers are replacing 100% of the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life safety systems, plus bathrooms and elevators. The “old” stacks and the “new” stacks, added in the 1960s, were removed and a modern addition is under construction. The library is scheduled to reopen in late 2023.

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In the above photo of the ceiling above the lobby, Facilities Management will remove each one of the little squares and, according to Senior Project Manager Kit Meyer, “a diffuser will be tucked in there, so the air will be coming down and making the space more comfortable.

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“This project is definitely going to add to the thermal comfort of people and bring in fresh air, so the building will be much more comfortable when we are done,” she said.

These photos by University Photographer Sanjay Suchak depict work at the beginning of the fall semester. From Facilities Management, Meyer and Henry Hull, historic preservation project coordinator, explained some of the plans and construction work to help chronicle the transformation. (They also talk about the library renovation in a recent video.)

In addition to Facilities Management, Architect for the University Alice Raucher and Brian Hogg, senior historic preservation planner from her office, are working with the architectural firm HBRA and Skanska construction company on this project.

Outside view of the Alderman renovation from inside the library

“The new addition’s foundations, footings and columns are rising up, and by next summer, all five stories will be seen,” Meyer said.

Room in the Alderman Library that is being renovated and storing various construction materials and tools

The main lobby looks different stripped down, but it will be restored to its 1938 character, complete with black-and-white checkerboard floor tiles, as one of two entrances.

The refurbished lobby, Meyer said, “is going to have comfortable reading arrangements where people can sit and meet a friend, do some studying and enjoy this light-filled space.”

Meyer noted that the café, formerly on the fourth floor, will be relocated to the second floor of the renovated building. That new construction will also feature another entrance on level two and a double-height reading room on level four – similar in size and volume to the original lobby, but with a more contemporary feel.

The new entrance is intended to make the Grounds more welcoming to the community.

Gutted Staircase in the Alderman Library Renovation building.

Gone are the narrow, claustrophobic staircases in the old and new stacks, but the existing stairs in the historic building on west and east sides will remain. “We are adding three new staircases and three new elevators,” Meyer said. The sprinkler pipe at the left signals a big improvement: having a sprinkler system installed.

Inside the gutted Alderman Library with Construction workers working

Believe it or not, this is the old reference room, in the east wing of the original building. “The goal is to make this look like it did in 1937, with all the 20th- and 21st-century upgrades that we want in a building today,” Hull said. Like a few other special rooms, this one being converted into a reading room will nevertheless have the same bookshelves, tables and chairs – all refinished – that had been there since the library opened.

Gutted Alderman Library Room with fresh plaster on the wall

Office spaces for administrative offices are being reconfigured. The restoration of the existing building is well ahead of the new addition, Meyer said. “Seen are new walls, offices and hallways that are almost ready for trim and paint.”

Gutted Alderman Library with new metal walls up ready for drywall

The map room was located here, on level three east, Meyer said. After the renovation, the Scholars’ Lab will be housed here.

Gutted hallway in the Alderman Library with wood braces where the windows use to be

On level 2, this view of one of the bridge-hallways to the addition shows the windows removed and the openings expanded. Looking north from this spot, patrons will see a new study lounge between the entrances to University Avenue.

“The new addition will house stacks and study spaces that are bright and comfortable. It will be much easier to orient yourself in the building,” Meyer said.

Room without windows in the Alderman Library

This large, open space with a few stray chairs was the Stanley and Lucie Weinstein Buddhist and Asian Studies Library (formerly the Asian Studies Room until 2019). To get there, patrons usually entered through the McGregor Room, on the south end. Both areas will be restored.

Here’s another view, looking at the original building from level 2.

Glassless windows of Alderman Library

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications