By now, the steps are familiar to everyone working in the stacks of Alderman Library: pick a book off the shelf, scan it, fit it into a cardboard tray, scan a barcode on the tray, load trays into orange crates and stack the crates into a truck.
It takes a long time to pack and move 1.7 million books and other library materials across the University of Virginia, but contractor Jacob Bastian estimates his team is halfway done with their part of the job. The project is the first leg of a $160 million renovation of the library, which opened in 1938.
“It’s not very glamorous,” said Bastian, with Backstage Library Services, as he recently wound his way back and forth through various floors of the stacks. “But it has to be done.”
In 2017, Bastian and fellow project manager Jared Scherer led a team that cataloged Alderman’s inventory. The team counted, cleaned and verified each item — books, pages, scrolls, maps and items — in the building, and fixed thousands of catalog errors.
“There’s a lot of little details to a library that you never realize,” said Scherer, a graduate of UVa.
The renovation will require demolishing the Old and New Stacks and moving most of the library’s collection off-site to Ivy Stacks; a significant portion will return to Alderman when the renovation is completed.
The cramped 10-floor layout of the Alderman stacks, which were never meant to be open for public browsing and which are not ADA- or fire-code-compliant, will become five stories with compact shelving, more seating and study and class rooms.
The project also will restore the historic MacGregor Reading Room and add an entrance to the north side of the building.
Some faculty and staff opposed the renovation. The new compact shelving system, on which a series of bookshelves are clustered together on a track and a user moves them and can access one set of shelves at a time, will discourage serendipitous browsing, according to petition created in June 2018.
Despite the opposition, the university’s Board of Visitors approved designs in 2018 after securing state funding.
As workers pack books into crates and move them to Ivy Stacks, they are also careful to keep everything in order, because, unlike other moves Backstage has done, most of the items will return to Central Grounds (plus, during the move, all books will remain available for checkout at either Ivy Stacks or Clemons Library).
“We don’t just haul the books out,” said Esther Onega, senior project director of the Alderman renovation. “The online catalog must be updated with the new location and the books must remain in call number order so we can bring them back in call number order. It would take a long time to get them back in order if we don’t keep them that way.”
The building’s quirks also make boxing up books a delicate affair. Workers must navigate the stack’s cramped ceilings and wedge crates into a tiny freight elevator.
Alderman’s collections are kept according to the Library of Congress’ classification system, but some sections are scattered across different floors. That means that Scherer and Bastian’s team, which is currently working its way through the H books (social sciences), are ferrying books from multiple floors down a tiny freight elevator to a loading area.
The team already has identified the books that are most frequently requested, and have ferried items on the “hit list” to the recently renovated Clemons Library. The first floor of Clemons reopened in May with different study spaces and compact shelves.
Now, most remaining items are on their way to Ivy Stacks, guided by moving subcontractor Overton & Associates.
Once the books are out of Alderman, the metal shelves will be recycled and workers will begin preparing the building for partial demolition. During the spring semester, Historic Alderman will remain open. Construction manager Skanska will begin demolition preparations — such as abatement in the stacks — and site utility work during the spring semester.
Onega has been planning the move for the past two years.
“I used to work in a law firm, and this feels just like finishing up a big case and saying, now what do I do with the rest of my life?” she laughed, looking around at now-empty metal shelves.
The university has not yet responded to calls for the renovated library to bear a different name.
Edwin Alderman was the first president of UVa, serving from 1905 to 1931, and helped to organize the modern university. However, he also supported eugenics and the local Ku Klux Klan; in 1921, he thanked the Virginia state Klan for a $1,000 gift to the university (In 2017, former President Teresa A. Sullivan announced a donation equaling the current value of that gift from the university to victims of the Aug. 12, 2017, car attack).
Alderman also delivered the acceptance speech for the Robert E. Lee statue at Market Street Park donated by Paul Goodloe McIntire in 1924 on behalf of the city of Charlottesville.
Several university buildings originally named after eugenicists have been rededicated recently; UVa spokesman Wes Hester did not say whether Alderman has been referred to the university’s committee that considers renamings.
“The naming of facilities on the Grounds is an important and ongoing dialogue, and Alderman Library is a part of that conversation, though no decisions have been made at this time,” Hester said in an email last week.
Alderman will close in May and the partial demolition will start during the summer of 2020. The project is expected to be completed in phases in the fall of 2022.