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The Jerry Falwell Library

Jerry Falwell Library: Built on dreams of the past, created with innovation of the future

By Drew Menard, February 19, 2014

At the heart of Liberty University’s campus stands the centerpiece of the school’s $500 million campus reconstruction — the Jerry Falwell Library. The first major facility to bear the name of Liberty’s founder, the 170,000-square-foot building is a testament to his ability to dream big, and then to pursue those dreams with unparalleled faith and tenacity.

On the morning of Jan. 15, more than 400 guests celebrated the grand opening at a ceremony in the library while nearly 10,000 students participated in a live broadcast from the nearby Vines Center. Among the notable guests were members of the Falwell family, including Dr. Jerry Falwell’s wife, Macel; his twin brother, Gene; and his children, President Jerry Falwell, Jr., the Rev. Jonathan Falwell, and Dr. Jeannie Rivers and their families. Several people who have played key roles in Liberty’s development were in attendance, including A. Pierre Guillermin, Liberty’s President Emeritus; Russ Fitzgerald, Liberty’s former Chief Academic Officer; and Boyd Rist, Provost Emeritus. Several local and regional leaders participated as well, including Lynchburg College President Dr. Kenneth R. Garren, Central Virginia Community College President John Capps, Lynchburg Mayor Michael Gillette, and members of Lynchburg City Council.

President Jerry Falwell, Jr. welcomed the crowd, noting that 97 weeks had passed since the groundbreaking. But as he shared a touching tribute to his father’s legacy, it was apparent that the true foundation of the library had been laid long before — almost 37 years to the day.

Liberty Founder Dr. Jerry Falwell on Jan. 21, 1977.

Liberty Founder Dr. Jerry Falwell on Jan. 21, 1977.

A video dated Jan. 21, 1977, was shown at the event, documenting a group of students and staff members gathered near an old dairy barn in a snow-covered field on Liberty Mountain. The wide plain featured little more than the remnants of a farm and the foundations for dormitories whose construction had been stalled due to financial constraints.

Falwell, Sr. — his voice strong and confident as always — exhorted the crowd to pray for a miracle:

“We have come here today to have a season of prayer together. We want to have a time of praise, and I want us here today to ask the Lord to do something special for us on what we believe to be a sacred spot of ground: Liberty Mountain. We are asking God to build us a college. Some 200 acres that, with God’s help, we trust will one day be wrapped up with buildings — buildings filled with young people who have come here to train to serve our Lord.”

After the video, President Falwell recounted the struggle, along with the steady progress, that characterized the first four decades of Liberty’s history. The prayers offered on that snowy day have indeed been answered, far exceeding the vision.

Now with more than 7,000 acres and more than 4.7 million square feet of building space, Liberty University — Falwell, Sr.’s promised land — is in the midst of its most ambitious venture to date, a massive campus overhaul that includes several new buildings and additions to existing ones (visit www.Liberty.edu/MasterPlan).

But even with the net assets to justify the growth, Falwell, Jr. said he had to take a step of faith of his own: tearing down those early buildings that were only meant to be temporary so that permanent, state-of-the-art structures could be built.

“I had to get over the obstacle in my mind that said, ‘Don’t ever tear anything down.’ We had fought so hard to build what we had and everything was packed out,” he said.

So in his father’s spirit of faith, President Falwell took the lead on the demolition in March 2012, driving the backhoe that leveled the former Schilling Center to make way for the library.

The new building stands as a monument to the university’s founder but also echoes the university’s mission to provide world-class Christian education.

With four stories and 170,00 square feet of space, there is no shortage of cozy places to study in the extensive new library.

With four stories and 170,00 square feet of space, there is no shortage of cozy places to study in the extensive new library.

The grand opening ceremony was a testament to the library’s innovation, joining attendees in two campus locations in worship together — students in the Vines Center led by Liberty’s Campus Band and guests in the library by LU Praise — while online viewers also watched the live broadcast from across the country. Cheers from the students could be heard in the nearby library. It was a fitting scene: there on the very piece of land stood Liberty’s campus as Dr. Falwell once imagined it. Now, rather than gathering to pray for God’s provision for a campus, its student body and faithful supporters were joined in singing of the Lord’s tremendous blessings for what is now the nation’s seventh largest university.Mayor Gillette addressed the students, stating that Liberty has made “a significant commitment in creating this library, a repository of learning and knowledge that will stand for decades and perhaps even for centuries.”

He went on to exhort them, “It is my sincere hope that all of you will take advantage of the wonderful gift that Liberty University bestows upon you with the dedication of this building, and that this library will become a symbol of the heart of the university, its educational mission.”

Just before the ribbon was cut to officially open the new library, Liberty’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Ronald Godwin shared some personal stories from the years he co-labored with Liberty’s founder to see his vision to fruition.

He gave the guests a glimpse of “the real Dr. Falwell,” who he described as a “real family-first man, a model husband, father, and grandfather.”

Godwin celebrated Dr. Falwell’s thundering impact on an entire nation of believers.

The Caudell Reading Room provides a quiet, reflective study area.

The Caudell Reading Room provides a quiet, reflective study area conducive to thoughtful and contemplative reading.

“He awoke a slumbering generation of evangelical Christians to their obligations as active citizens,” Godwin said of Dr. Falwell. “He repeatedly reminded American Christians that it was not only their right, but their Bible-based obligation to vote and to make their voices heard on issues of national importance. The truth is that almost single-handedly, one Baptist preacher turned modern, American politics on its head, bypassing TV network-gatekeepers to speak on national television, and by way of direct mail, to an entire nation. He welcomed every opportunity to debate the social and moral issues the elites wanted to avoid.”

He recalled how Dr. Falwell would often stop and count the amazing victories the Lord provided for the university and challenged the Liberty family to carry on that spirit of joy and gratitude.

As Godwin recounted his time with Dr. Falwell, who he regarded as more of a friend than a co-worker, he said he could only imagine what Liberty’s founder would be doing if he were alive that day to oversee the library construction: “Dr. Falwell is looking down today and he’s smiling because one more time … we’ve succeeded,” he said. “I know that if he was here today, in the weeks and days leading up to (the library grand opening), he would have loved to have personally led the challenge of meeting the construction deadlines and overcoming all of the obstacles and delays.

“Big, hairy, audacious goals were Dr. Falwell’s thing.”

Technology leads the way

A 24-by-11-foot media wall equipped with Microsoft Kinect movement recognition technology is a favorite attraction for students in the new library.

A 24-by-11-foot media wall equipped with Microsoft Kinect movement recognition technology is a favorite attraction for students in the new library.

As the university’s largest investment in any one structure on campus to date, the Jerry Falwell Library — bearing a $50 million price tag — is one of the nation’s most innovative academic libraries.

VMDO, the architectural firm from Charlottesville, Va., that designed the library, put more than 100,000 hours into the project. Staff, led by Acquisitions Librarian and former Library Dean Carl Merat, benchmarked some of the top libraries in the country for inspiration.

As a result, Library Dean Marcy Pride, who has nearly 20 years of professional experience in library work, said “there is no comparison” to other libraries she has worked with and visited.

“We looked at what we thought would be the best of the best, and we’re right up there with them in my humble opinion,” she said.

Perhaps the most innovative of all the technologies is the Automated Storage and Retrieval System (ASRS), a robotic book delivery system that can retrieve and deliver requested items to the Customer Service Center in as little as five minutes. With a capacity for 420,000 items, it uses one-seventh the space of traditional shelving. The ASRS was developed by Muratec, a world leader in machine tool technology. This is the first time Muratec’s system has been used in a library.

Highlights also include a 24-by-11-foot media wall equipped with Microsoft Kinect movement recognition technology, Perceptive Pixel tables (oversized tablets) loaded with academic materials and mind-challenging activities, 160 computers and another 140 wireless access points located throughout the building, and interactive information kiosks. The media wall and pixel tables are designed to digitally connect the Liberty family with each other. Students and faculty are encouraged to share photos and submit stories from mission trips, study abroad experiences, and local service projects, which will then be displayed along with other campus information.

The library features 1,300 network connections, 8,000 feet of fiber, and another 22,000 feet of copper to connect the library to the rest of campus and the world.

Faculty and students are discovering new ways to interact and learn in special meeting rooms. Seven “high collaboration” rooms with screen hubs allow group participants to simultaneously contribute to a shared digital project. In the Active Learning Classroom, students and professors can collaborate digitally using multiple screen hubs throughout the room.

“In every discipline the library provides the resources the professors need to really go beyond the classroom and give students the tools that they need,” President Falwell said.

Focused on student needs

Students can take a break from their studies in the library's Tinney Café.

Students can take a break from their studies in the library’s Tinney Café.

Pride and her staff have worked hard to ensure that the library offers unparalleled educational environments and experiences for the students.

“A library is not only about information. Information is a good thing, but a library is also about imagination and inspiration and even, for some, transformation.”

Inspired by Jeffersonian architecture and incorporating modern elements, the library is as innovative in design as it is in technology. With more than 80,000 square feet of interior and exterior glass, the building allows for an abundance of natural light as well as breathtaking views. Students have plenty of opportunities to take in the surrounding scenery from a floating staircase, terraces, or one of the many balconies.

President Falwell said a large part of the design was about meeting the needs of today’s students.

“A big part of this building is creating the right study atmosphere in different areas for different types of studies. It’s sort of a new version of what libraries have become,” he said.

With over 8,000 square feet of interior and exterior glass, the library has plenty of natural light with great views of campus.

With over 8,000 square feet of interior and exterior glass, the library has plenty of natural light with great views of campus.

From interactive classrooms to a 4-story book tower, the library is designed to accommodate all learning styles. It has study zones for both peer collaboration and quiet reflection, and more than 30 group study rooms with fully writable walls. The 2-story Caudell Reading Room offers an ideal space for reflective study and contemplative reading, while the Scholars Commons is a deep quiet zone conducive to research. The Scholars Commons also has lockers with device charging capabilities.

Those interested in Liberty’s history can access documents in a number of formats in the Liberty University Archive.

Nooks and crannies all over — furnished with cozy chairs, couches, and booths — allow students to find their own comfy spot for study or relaxation. Students can get nourishment during their study (or take a break from studying altogether) in the Tinney Café food court, which includes Starbucks, Pizza Hut Express, Tsunami Sushi, and Brioche Dorée (a French bistro).

Senior Bekah Davis was one of the first students to explore the new building after the ribbon cutting.

“It was really cool to walk in with a huge crowd of people when the doors opened and to see everyone’s faces … their jaws just dropped,” she said. “It was really awesome because it is making history.”

Pride said students are enjoying exploring the new space and making it their own.

“I have never seen students so excited to come to the library,” she said. “That warms my heart, because I know that once they get here, not only will they get information, they also will find a place that will inspire them and motivate them to make new discoveries.”

You made your mark… and we thank you

The Jerry Falwell Library Capital Campaign has received nearly $2.6 million in donations since it formally launched in April 2012. The campaign offered everyone an opportunity to contribute to the project through commemorative bricks, naming opportunities, or private donations.

Today, the finished library and its grand entranceway stand as a tangible reminder of the commitment so many of you made to Christ-centered education and to changing the world through Training Champions for Christ.

Thank you for supporting these efforts, for loving our students, and for playing your part in laying a firm foundation for so many bright futures.

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