Library Renovation Set to Begin

An architectural rendering of Preston Library's common area.

An architectural rendering shows the future learning commons on the library's fifth floor.—Image courtesy of Col. Diane Jacob.

LEXINGTON, Va., Feb. 13, 2019—By mid-March, a project that’s been in the planning stages for two years will finally get underway: the first renovation of Preston Library in almost a quarter century.

The floor-by-floor renovation, beginning at the top and working downward, is expected to take approximately 18 months to complete, at a cost of $19.2 million. The building, a hub of learning and research that’s used not only by cadets, but also faculty, staff, and the general public, will remain open during the renovation, with hours and operations as usual.

Overseeing library operations during the renovation process will be Col. Diane Jacob, a 40-year veteran of the library staff who’s currently library director and head of archives. She remembers that when the library was last renovated, from 1994 to 1996, the building had to be emptied completely—but this renovation should proceed in a much smoother fashion, since little is being moved out.

“Most of the materials will remain in the building,” said Jacob. “The locations of things will change during this process as we accommodate the floor-by-floor renovation.”

The only items not remaining on post are bound periodicals, which have had to be moved into offsite storage in Richmond to free up space for moving items temporarily displaced by the renovations. Jacob explained that interlibrary loan services will be available for patrons who need periodicals not currently housed in the library.

“We’re going to do our very best to maintain normality [during the renovations] and disrupt cadet study space as little as possible,” Jacob commented.

When the work is complete, the library will have all new finishes and floors. The elevator, which currently stops at the 600 level, will go all of the way to the top floor. The Mathematics Education Resource Center (MERC) will move from its current home on the top level to a space on the next floor down adjacent to the VMI Center for Undergraduate Research (VCUR), thus putting what Jacob termed “student enhancement services” next door to each other.

The top level of the library, which offers a commanding view of the Parade Ground, will be transformed into a conference and meeting room.

On the fifth floor, what’s currently known as the reference room will become a “learning commons,” with banks of computers and study space for cadets. There will also be a smart classroom for library instruction, and a group study room with smart classroom capabilities.

All of this is the result of Jacob and her staff working with the construction office and the architect in charge of the project to create spaces that will enhance learning. “The effort has been to look at what a 21st century library needs and incorporate all of those elements into the renovation,” Jacob stated.

The VMI archives, too, will get a refurbished and more spacious home, with greater protection for its treasure trove of historic documents. Jacob, who worked in archives for decades before becoming library director, said that the HVAC system in the archives installed in the mid-1990s renovation has never worked as well as it should have, and it’s thus slated for replacement. The archives section of the library will have 25 percent more shelf space once the renovations are complete, and those doing research in the archives will find a larger reading room as well.

Internet connectivity, just becoming a necessity when the newly renovated Preston Library opened in 1996, will likewise be enhanced by the upcoming work. Jacob explained that currently, the building has wireless internet access, but there are “dead spots” where connecting is difficult.

“The number of wireless access points is going to be increased, and the signal strength, which has been a problem in certain areas of the building, shouldn’t be a problem anymore,” the head librarian commented.

When the renovation is completed, in the summer of 2020, the result will be a building that looks much the same as it did when it was dedicated on Founders Day 1939—100 years to the day since the founding of VMI. The stucco will be redone, just as it recently was on Jackson Memorial Hall, and new windows will be installed, but to a casual observer, the building will appear unchanged.

Inside, though, visitors will be greeted by an open, spacious entrance—and enhancements meant to help all library users find the information they are seeking.

“When it’s done, we’ll walk into a greatly enhanced, more modern building that’s much more suitable for a 21st century learning community,” said Jacob.

-Mary Price


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