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Volume 45, Number 3

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Hollins University's New Wyndham Robertson Library

By Marna Hostetler

Hollins University's new Wyndham Robertson Library opened to the public March 30, 1999 and was formally dedicated two weeks later as part of an entire weekend honoring the school's literary tradition. After a five-year fundraising effort and three years of construction, the Hollins community welcomed the new building with enthusiasm.


Beginning with the 1995 announcement of plans to build a new library, the building was the cornerstone of the Capital Campaign for Hollins. The Campaign eventually raised over $47 million, with $14 million earmarked for the library.

The library is named for Wyndham Robertson, current chair of the Hollins University Board of Trustees and member of the class of 1958. Ms. Robertson's brother Julian Robertson and his wife Josie made a $3 million gift to name the building in Wyndham's honor. Other named areas in the building include: the third floor, named in honor of former Hollins Board of Trustees Chair Jane Bassett Spilman, class of 1953; The Hollins Room, given to honor former Dean Mary Phelgar Smith; the first floor, named in memory of Pela Plummer Hundley and Thomas Johnston Hundley; the children's literature wing, named in memory of Elizabeth Moss Hall, class of 1902; the Reference Wing, named in memory of Harry S. Frazier, Jr.; the Friendship Colonnade, named in memory of Mina Hohenberg Darden, class of 1959; and the Lewis Reading Room, named in memory of Frances McNulty Lewis, class of 1928.


The 56,620-square-foot library was designed with student input and has many exciting features. The building has seating for almost 300 patrons, and each seat has a network connection, allowing patrons to bring in their personal laptops and connect comfortably. The entry level houses the Circulation Wing, the Frazier Reference Wing, the Government Documents Collection, and the Lewis Reading Room with two-story windows. There is also a fully networked, Viennese-styled coffee commons with an adjoining reading porch.

The lower level is home to the bound periodicals and microform collections, as well as the Jessup Media Commons. The Media Commons includes a television studio and control room, video editing and production equipment, and a multimedia development center for faculty and students. The Jackson Screening Room seats 40 people and can accommodate film screenings, bibliographic instruction, small conferences, computer training, and interactive media presentations. The Media Library contains approximately 3,000 items and is serviced by the Media Circulation Desk.

The second level accommodates a fully networked, 25-seat bibliographic instruction room, Technical Services, and Administrative Offices. The Boney Reading Room with its beautiful view of the Hollins landscape is also on this level.

The third level features the Ashworth Rare Books Room, the McVitty-Niederer Archives Room, and the Hollins Room. The Hollins Room, when complete, will hold all works by and about Hollins faculty and alumnae/i. This level also houses the McDonnell-Hall Children's Literature Wing, which includes the 1,400-volume Francelia Butler Collection. Butler was a well-known children's literature scholar. Each level has individual study carrels, and the upper three levels have both private study rooms and open group study space.

Dedication Weekend

Although the library opened to patrons March 30, it was not formally dedicated until April 10, 1999. The dedication coincided with a Literary Festival and a Creative Writing Program reunion, which made for three days of exciting literary activities and events.

The weekend's festivities officially began Friday, April 9 with a keynote address given by Dr. Vartan Gregorian, president of the Carnegie Corporation and past president of Brown University and New York Public Library. In his address, Dr. Gregorian said that dedicating a library is an event of "paramount importance in the life of a society, in the life of a community, in the life of a city, in the life of Hollins University and in the annals of American philanthropy." Dr. Gregorian also pointed out that the Robertson Library dedication was actually "a rededication to learning and knowledge, understanding, education, to the future. In dedicating a library we are also celebrating the human spirit, the human dignity, the human potential. We note with pride that we human beings are not mere actualities, that we are potentialities, that we are not mere socio-economic, entertainment and consumer units, that we are rational, moral, spiritual beings endowed with reason, imagination and dreams."

Gregorian 's impassioned speech, "In Praise of Libraries", earned him a standing ovation from the crowd of 800 and was an adaptation of an essay he planned to publish later in the spring.

Tours of the library were offered at this time, and library staff members were posted at key points throughout the building to answer any questions. A wine and cheese reception in the library foyer set the mood for a festive black-tie gala held later in the evening.

Despite clouds and the threat of rain, more than 900 spectators gathered for the dedication ceremony on Saturday, April 10. To commemorate the fact that the school's first library collection was seeded by student donations, thirteen students and one faculty member each carried an item in a ceremonial book passing from the Cocke building, the school's original library, to the new Robertson Library. Items passed included: Good Night Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, class of 1932; Morocco, by Mary Cross, class of 1957; Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard, class of 1967, M.A. 1968; The Last Day the Dogbushes Bloomed, by Lee Smith, class of 1967; The Flying Change, by Henry Taylor, M.A. 1966; "Buffalo Girls", a CBS miniseries coproduced by Sandra Saxon Brice, class of 1973; and Hollins College: An Illustrated History, by Frances J. Niederer.

Following the book passing, Wyndham Robertson welcomed the crowd from the steps of the new library. After remarks from Hollins President Janet E. Rasmussen and a dedication prayer by Chaplain Jan Fuller Carruthers, class of 1978, a surprise announcement was made. In honor of the longstanding literary tradition at Hollins, the Friends of Libraries, USA designated the library a national Literary Landmark. The library is one of only thirty-six such designations nationwide and is the first in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Virginia Center for the Book at the Library of Virginia provided a commemorative building plaque, which has since been mounted near the front doors of the building.

After these announcements and closing remarks, Library Director Diane Graves and Wyndham Robertson opened the library doors, welcoming visitors to the new building. Tours were again offered, including an "engineer's tour" of the building's many mechanical and electrical components.

In conjunction with the Literary Festival and the Library Dedication, a book signing and reading session were held by published Hollins alumnae/i and Brendan Galvin, the 1999 Wyndham Robertson Writer-in-Residence. This session was well-received by the 300 attendees and provided a wonderful forum for interaction with the authors.

The events of the library dedication weekend were a pleasure for all who participated, and the new building is warm and welcoming. As we settle into our new space, the staff of the Wyndham Robertson Library would like to invite Virginia librarians to stop by for a visit on the way to the Homestead for VLA this October, or any time before or after.

Marna Hostetler, formerly Public Services Librarian at Wyndham Robertson Library of Hollins University, now works at the University of South Carolina.

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