Board of Visitors votes to name renovated library The Edgar Shannon Library

By UVA Library | February 29, 2024

A nighttime photo of multistory brick building with large windows illuminated from within.
A new entrance to The Edgar Shannon Library makes the building easily reachable from the growing northern corridor along University Avenue. (Library Communications photo)

The University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors voted today to name the University’s newly renovated main library The Edgar Shannon Library, in honor of UVA’s fourth president.

The building originally opened in 1938 and was formerly named for UVA’s first president, Edwin A. Alderman. “As the University recently completed an extensive major project to create a modern, state-of-the art main library through completely renovating the historic portion of the facility ... it is presented with an opportunity to recognize another past president,” the BOV’s Building and Grounds Committee wrote in its agenda for the library’s renaming.

Edgar Shannon: UVA’s fourth president

A black and white photo of a white, middle-aged man (Edgar Shannon) in academic robes standing at a podium and speaking into a microphone.
Edgar Shannon speaking at Valedictory Exercises, 1974. (David Skinner/UVA Special Collections/ Call Number: RG-5/7/2.821)

Edgar Finley Shannon, Jr. was born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1918. Before leading UVA from 1959 to 1974, he served in the U.S. Navy as a junior gunnery officer during World War II and was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University where he received a Ph.D. in 1949. As UVA’s fourth president, he oversaw the institution during times of major political and social upheaval. Under his leadership, UVA instituted coeducation and racial integration. During that time, enrollment rose from 5,000 students to 15,000 as UVA, under a strategic plan Shannon developed, grew to become a nationally recognized research university.

According to the New York Times, Shannon is perhaps best known for his “dramatic stance” against the Vietnam War during his UVA presidency:

In 1970, after the United States drive into Cambodia and the shooting of student protesters at Kent State University by National Guardsmen, unrest mounted on the Virginia campus. Students boycotted classes, occupied the Reserve Officers Training Corps building, set fires and blocked traffic. …


Addressing 4,000 protesters gathered on the central lawn of the university, Mr. Shannon was at first jeered but soon won the crowd’s attention as he spoke of sharing their anguish over the killings at Kent State and of his passionate opposition to the war. Then, after leading the students and faculty in signing telegrams to Virginia’s two senators pressing them to stop the fighting in Southeast Asia, he was cheered.


Later, Mr. Shannon was denounced by some university alumni and a few newspapers in the area called for his dismissal. But the university’s governing board supported him, noting that he had kept the university open and free of violence when many other colleges and universities were forced to send students home.


At the commencement exercises that year, Mr. Shannon received a standing ovation as he rose to speak.

Those interested in Shannon’s leadership and legacy can find records of his administration in the Small Special Collections Library, which holds more than 100 boxes of his official papers. Other collections provide insight into the contributions of student activists in moving the University towards progress — particularly the May Strike of 1970 in reaction to Kent State and the escalation of the Vietnam War, and also the significant advocacy of the Black Student Alliance for integration, equity, and support in the 1960-70s. Plan a visit to Special Collections here. Or read more about Shannon in UVA Today.

Grand Opening celebration will be in April

The library reopened to the public on January 8, 2024. The renovation brought the building up to current standards of safety, accessibility, and service and features beautiful, naturally lit study and research spaces. Books and materials will continue to be moved into the space throughout the spring semester. A grand opening celebration will be held in the Shannon Library on April 4, 2024; details about that event are forthcoming.