About the Alderman Renovation project

Another step on the Library’s rich journey

The history of the University of Virginia can be divided into three chapters, each marked by the construction of a library.

A tall circular room with books and studying spaces.

The Dome Room, shown here during its days as the University Library, occupies the center of UVA’s Rotunda.

The Rotunda

The first chapter was the building of the Rotunda, the first library at UVA. Unlike other universities of its era, the University of Virginia was built around a library, rather than a chapel or other religious structure. This was symbolic of the central importance of knowledge to this university, and Thomas Jefferson himself was deeply engaged in selecting the materials that made up that library’s original collection, and in developing the system by which it would be organized. The Rotunda served as the University Library for over 100 years, until collections needs outgrew the Rotunda’s capacity.

Alderman Library

The building of Alderman Library, in 1937, marked the second important chapter of UVA’s history, as it was a response to the faculty’s demand for the volume and type of current information necessary to function as a research university. At the same time that Alderman Library was built, the University committed to a very significant increase in annual spending on collections. Those collections, in turn, were housed in the Alderman stacks. Originally closed to most patrons, these stacks were laid out to maximize the storage of printed matter, and the stacks themselves were part of a state-of-the art integrated book storage system (the Snead Book Distributor) that included a book conveyor belt. Librarians picked requested titles from the shelves and dropped them on the belt, and they were delivered to the circulation desk.

Three historic photos of Alderman Library.

Left to right: Back of Alderman Library before construction of the “New Stacks” in the 1960s, construction of “New Stacks”, Alderman’s original layout from above.

What lies ahead…

The renovation of Alderman, beginning in 2018, marks the third chapter in the University’s history, and the choices we make in that renovation will say a great deal about what we think the future of research and scholarship will be, as well as what we think a great university needs in order to support those activities.

We also need to replace the plumbing. The systems in Alderman Library—the plumbing, as well as the wiring, the heating and air conditioning—are at the point of failure. Some of these systems are original to the building and are approaching 80 years of operation. Frequent fire alarms (and building evacuations) are the result of small failures in these systems, but they are also a reminder that there is no fire suppression in the building—no sprinkler systems in those (now open) stacks full of paper. The collections are at risk, but there are also real life-safety issues throughout the building, and these must be addressed.

The general plan is to maintain the building’s character and its shell, and replace the interior with new construction having LEED-quality systems and housing collections and services that will support the University’s mission in its third century. New construction opening onto University Avenue will be the face of a Library that is sustainable and future-oriented, with elements of architectural diversity that respect the past, but are designed to accommodate change. We expect that the whole of a renovated Alderman will keep the large windows, the high ceilings, and the contemplative character that all of us enjoy in the original building.

Academic libraries serve multiple purposes for multiple constituencies, and we will work diligently with the University community to understand and balance those needs. Students, faculty, and library staff are all deeply vested in getting this balance right, and producing a building that allows for growth in collections, for the evolution of knowledge, and for change over time, as the building learns from its users. The expansion of Ivy Stacks, happening in the summer of 2017, is a key precursor of this project, as it will allow the temporary off-site storage of the 2.5M items in the Alderman collection, with new preservation-quality HVAC. But browsing collections will return to Alderman, and the new building, like the Rotunda before it, will reflect thoughtful organization of resources, interspersed with space to use those resources. And, like Alderman today, the new building will offer many different environments for study—from bookish spaces like the McGregor Room to spaces organized around other kinds of information or for other purposes, allowing for quiet study, group study, and social interaction.

Project planning history, logistics, and documentation

As an approved capital project, the Alderman renovation appears on the UVA Budget Office’s current University Capital Budget page. Look for information on “Alderman Library Renewal” in the Major Capital Projects Plan and Status Report, under “Capital Budgeting Reports.”

There have also been several studies of Alderman completed in the past ten years. In 2007, architectural planning firm DEGW completed a Planning and Assessment study of Alderman, and in 2011 a maintenance survey of the building and its systems was done. In 2014-15, historic structures specialists Quinn Evans produced a historic features survey of the building, and most recently, in 2015-16 Cannon Design completed a Library System Planning Study. In addition, this project has generated considerable interest from faculty. Elizabeth Fowler, a member of the English Department faculty wrote An Architectural Program for Alderman Library about the value of Alderman Library to the University community in 2016.

Where we are now

On April 20, 2016, the Virginia legislature passed House Bill 1344, a capital projects funding bill that approved funding for a planning study to: “Renovate Alderman Library, Life Safety Phase I.”  The focus is on fire, safety, and system renewals of the building, although there is also some acknowledgment that mission update and modernization is included.

While the previous studies mentioned above will inform the renovation, more recently the Library worked with brightspot strategy to complete a planning study, which was completed in August 2017: “Vision and Goals for the Alderman Library Renovation Project.”

The objective of this latest study is to define the goals for a renovated Alderman and the activities it will support, including how collections, spaces, and services will support those goals and activities. To that end, brightspot interviewed various stakeholders—staff, faculty, students—to determine needs. These needs will form the basis for the remaining planning: defining a vision for Alderman; searching for a suitable architect to turn the needs and vision into a revitalized Library; and determining the services, collections, and staffing needed to bring the vision to life.

Renovation Timeline

Timeline graphic of current construction items. See text below for data.

April 2017 – August 2017, Clemons Library: Construction continues on Dathel and John Georges Student Center on 2nd floor. Center will open in early September. Planning continues for reconfigured 1st floor.

July 2017 – April 2018, Ivy Stacks: Expansion underway.

July 2017 – December 2017, Alderman Library: Planning begins in earnest, turning stakeholder goals into plan. Identify an architect for the project.

July 2017 – April 2018, Alderman Library inventory, : Inventory Alderman Library to facilitate housing collections during construction.

Updated: 6/5/2017


If you have questions, concerns, or ideas about the Alderman renovation, email University Librarian John Unsworth (Unsworth@virginia.edu) using the subject line “Alderman renovation”.  He will read and reply to all email with that subject line.