At the Center: Preston Library

If you are walking by the Superintendent’s Quarters and look across the Parade Ground at Academic Row, one building seems to be at its center: Preston Library. This is appropriate because VMI’s library is at the very center of its academic life. “All other academic buildings—such as Maury-Brooke and Scott Shipp Halls—serve certain departments’ specific needs,” said COL Don Samdahl, VMI’s Head Librarian, “Preston Library serves every cadet, every member of the faculty and staff, every member of the VMI community.”

And, it serves full time as well. “The library is open throughout the year,” explained Samdahl, “and it is used extensively not only during the regular academic year, but also during summer school and the Summer Transition Program.”

A full-time and part-time staff of seventeen and twenty cadet assistants make Preston Library run. So, too, does generous private financial support. Currently, twenty-two endowments support it. The Class of 1969 Memorial Room, which houses periodicals and recreational books and showcases faculty publications, and E. Stuart James Grant Reference Room are two examples of endowment-supported activities. The many annual gifts to the Friends of Preston Library fund physical improvements, such as new shelving and furniture, and additions to the collections of books and electronic resources.

Overall, according to Samdahl, this private support “significantly enhances the library’s ability to provide first-class service to cadets, faculty, and staff and that ability improves the Institute’s overall academic reputation.”

Samdahl firmly believes this generosity has its roots in alumni experiences as cadets. “They’ll tell me how, say, Preston Library was critical to their academic success or provided a quiet refuge from Barracks, and they want to make sure current and future cadets have the same experiences.”