Renovation of our main library kicked off in 2020

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more! This week’s theme is the renovation of our main library, which began in 2020 and will complete by 2023. 

What happened?

The renovation of UVA’s main library began both earlier than expected and not a moment too soon.

With the building scheduled to shut down at the end of the spring 2020 semester, preparation was well underway by January: most staff had been relocated to new office locations, patrons were actively receiving information about the upcoming closure and how it might affect their experience, and all of the materials in the library had been relocated to their temporary homes in Clemons and Ivy Stacks. Walking through the building, it was common to see survey markings on tile, newly-emptied and oddly-hushed spaces, and focused, hard-hatted construction personnel.

But the beginning of March saw a hitch: a major water line failure necessitated shutting off all water to the west wing. The building’s restrooms, already too few, were now down to less than half, exacerbated by the fact that stacks elevators were requisitioned for asbestos removal, leaving significant portions of the building inaccessible.

But the last twist was yet to come — far larger than one single building, but relevant nonetheless — and it struck with a wallop. February had seen the U.S.’s first publicized cases of COVID-19, and the pandemic exploded in the country in early March. Conversations about how to react began in homes, businesses, and schools across the country.

In the end, the shutdown was rapid: students departed for spring break on a Friday, and by the end of the following week, Grounds was closed. The immediate shift to distance learning was underway.

By March 16, the library was empty. And the renovation began.

What to expect?

High-ceilinged room with long tables and chairs. A balcony overlooks the space.

Architectural rendering of the fourth floor reading room in the renovated main library.

The new library, scheduled to open by spring 2023, will correct long-standing issues with the building’s systems — all new HVAC, electricity, fire suppression, and other infrastructure will ensure the safety and comfort of users. The stacks, originally built for use by librarians and never meant as public spaces, will be replaced with user-friendly mixed-use areas, with space for both people and collections — and ample room for users to interact with library materials. The half-height floors will be gone, and sightlines and wayfinding throughout the building will be greatly improved.

A large skylight tops a sunny indoor space with tables and small trees.

Architectural rendering of lightwells turned into study courts in the renovated main library.

The new building will also be a lot easier on the eyes. New construction will enable natural light to flood into the formerly fluorescent-lit interior and throughout the building. Clerestory windows will allow sunlight to pour into the fifth floor stacks and an expansive opening in that floor will allow the light down into the fourth floor research and study areas. Banks of windows will illuminate third and second terrace-level floors, and double-height windows on the building’s north side will do the same for a new two-story reading room. Unused space at the bottom of the lightwells behind the entrance hall will be replaced with study courtyards under skylights. Windows in the new building will feature UV protection on the glass so collections will not be damaged by the natural light. In addition, conservation measures such as an improved HVAC system and new preservation lab facilities will ensure that the books — some on high-density shelving, and others interspersed on shelves throughout study areas — are well cared for.

The new library will welcome the University community, visiting scholars, and citizens of the Commonwealth into a much better environment for both users and collections. No tuition dollars are being used to fund the renovation; the budget will come solely from a combination of state funds and private donations from alumni and friends.

We are deeply grateful for renovation support and we appreciate all who have given. See a full list of Renovation supporters.

A concrete floor and ceiling with regular poles arranged vertically.

Empty stacks awaiting demolition, June 2020. Photo by Tom Daly. 

Brick bridge between two open spaces has been knocked through, showing daylight

Work begins on the second floor, where lightwells will be transformed into study courts. Photo by Tom Daly. 

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