A library of the future

Carrier undergoing extensive renovation and expansion

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SUMMARY: Bethany Nowviskie, dean of Libraries, gives the Madison Family a closer peek at the renovation and expansion of Carrier Library, which is beloved by generations of students, faculty and alumni. The work will be completed in December 2025, and the library will re-open in Fall 2026.

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Rendering of a future entrance to Carrier Library, looking north from D-Hall

Show of hands: Who among our more than 160,000 living JMU alumni does not have a fond memory of Carrier Library?

At some point, all of us passed through this venerable building and contemplative space, which has served as the intellectual and cultural crossroads of campus since 1939. Bethany Nowviskie, dean of JMU Libraries, described this intersection as, “People, ideas, disciplines, fields — the past and the future all come together in Carrier in really exciting ways.”

While Carrier has undergone many modifications throughout the years, including a major addition in the early ’80s, the time has come to fully renovate and further expand the building for many reasons, most especially because of its heavy usage. “The libraries on JMU’s campus are some of our most heavily trafficked places. They’re always lively and busy, and I think that’s because students love to be in spaces that inspire them to focus on their work,” Nowviskie said.

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A 1927 view of the library in the Students’ Building (now Harrison Hall)

Plus, how we consume, interpret and disseminate knowledge changes almost daily; this renovation and expansion project will transform Carrier into a library of the future. The project is well-timed with the evolution of JMU overall. Our new Carnegie classification as a high research doctoral institution and rise to the national rankings requires facilities that match the institution’s profile.

To that point, Nowviskie said, “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for all of us at JMU to build the academic library that this campus needs and deserves, and that befits its status as a national university. So we’re all really invested in getting this right. 

“There’s been tremendous energy and goodwill feeding into the design of the building — the ways in which students, faculty and administrators have come together to outline what it is that we need,” she said. “Our library faculty and staff, which include librarians, but also educational technologists and instructional designers, have had a hand in the design of this building. And so it’s bringing together everybody’s hopes, desires and expertise into something really fabulous and new for JMU, as we come on the stage as a national university.”

Concerns about accessibility and compliance under the Americans with Disabilities Act are driving the design, as are crowding, safety and overall navigability of the aging facility. Universal design principles, which are defined as creating “an environment that can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability,” guided the remodeling. 

The new Carrier Library will have many features, including a 24-hour student study space; large, beautiful, book-lined reading rooms; outdoor terraces; consultation and group study rooms; and expanded facilities for library instruction, innovative educational technology, digital scholarship, distinctive collections and more. The renovated building will also house a café and the Furious Flower Poetry Center, the nation’s first academic center dedicated to Black poetry.

Student feedback in the early phases of design was also foundational. “Student input was so important to us,” Nowviskie said. “And you know, we’re designing a library for JMU students far into the future. And there’s no better set of experts on what students need now and how we can predict what the next generation of students will be than our JMU students right now. So we engaged our Student Advisory Board, which gave input all along the way. The Student Government Association played a key role, and, together with our architects, we conducted really interesting student focus groups that helped us identify what’s most important for them in these spaces.”

Renovations and expansion are scheduled for completion in December 2025. But it will take several months to move the collections, equipment, furnishings and offices back inside, and to prepare the building for students. A grand re-opening is scheduled for Fall 2026. Much of the building will be gleaming and open, and a new, outdoor plaza will be created by the expansion on the north side of the building, which faces Grace Street. As for maintaining the historic feeling of Carrier, alumni will be happy to hear that much of the building’s original character will be highlighted and incorporated into the new design.

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Rendering of the future grand reading room on the third floor of the renovated Carrier Library

“We know that Carrier is beloved by our alumni. Our faculty care a great deal about Carrier, and our students love that historic feel of the 1930s portion of the building,” Nowviskie said. “So it’s been really fun to think of ways to bring [it] back to its former glory. The building was added on to in the ’60s, and again in the ’80s and the ’90s. But a lot of those prior expansions obscured some of the nicer historic features of the building. So as we’ve been undertaking this process of renovation, we’ve uncovered features of Carrier Library that have been hidden for years. One of my favorites of those is a set of beautiful column capitals in the reference room that have been hidden underneath a drop ceiling for decades. Nobody that I’ve talked to has seen them, and they have beautiful, intricate scrolls that we’re going to be able to restore and bring back to their former glory.” 

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Carrier Library 1931 black and white photo
Another view of the library in the Students’ Building (now Harrison Hall) in 1931


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by Andy Perinne (’86)

Published: Friday, October 20, 2023

Last Updated: Monday, March 18, 2024

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