Engaged with Ideas

Carrier Library through the years

The hallowed halls of Carrier Library have graced the Madison Experience for generations. Located just off the Quad, it has seen nonstop student traffic, at all hours of the day, for decades. The library has a long history, one that is still being written today.

But the housing of books and other academic resources at JMU has a past that extends far beyond the groundbreaking for Madison Memorial Library (now Carrier) in 1938. The first library on campus opened in the Science Hall (now Gabbin Hall) in 1905 when JMU was the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg. The one-room library accommodated about 40 students.

The original library on campus was housed in the Science Hall (now Gabbin Hall).
(Photo: from the Schoolma'am, 1910)

Ten years later, it was replaced by a larger facility in the Students' Building (now Harrison Hall). As the campus grew, it allowed for expansion. The completion of Wilson Hall in 1931 freed up space for the library to take over the first floor of Harrison, bringing the capacity to about 165 students.

The interior of the Students Building (now Harrison Hall), c. 1931
(Photo: Courtesy of JMU Libraries / Special Collections)

At the time, JMU was under the leadership of President Samuel P. Duke, who saw that the library was proving insufficient for the student body and decided to put in a request to the state legislature for $140,000 to fund the construction of a new library. The Madison Memorial Library opened its doors at the beginning of the Fall 1939 semester.

Madison Memorial Library, c. 1939 (exterior) and 1940 (interior)
(Photo: Courtesy of JMU Libraries / Special Collections)

In its early days, the library had a seating capacity of approximately 350 students, but with Madison on the rise, this would not suffice for long. The 1970s brought the first round of renovations, including air conditioning and the stacks section.

An expansion of Madison Memorial Library in the 1970s added 67,000 square feet of study space and the stacks section, more than doubling the size of the original building.
(Photo: By Tom Lighton / The Breeze)

In 1979, President Ronald E. Carrier, along with several members of the Board of Visitors, broke ground on a multistory expansion of the library, which was completed in 1982. This renovation more than doubled the size of the building. Just two years after its opening, the library was renamed in Carrier’s honor.

President Ronald E. Carrier (right) at the groundbreaking of a multistory expansion in 1979
(Photo: Courtesy of JMU Libraries / Special Collections)

The Carrier Library that students enjoyed in the ’80s was almost identical to the Carrier we know now, minus modern technology and a third floor, which was added in 1993 with a $4.1 million renovation. In the summer of 2008, Carrier welcomed a new sibling, East Campus Library (later renamed Rose Library in honor of then-President Linwood H. Rose).

A third floor was added to Carrier Library in 1993.
(Photo: Courtesy of JMU Libraries / Special Collections)

To many current students, the front of Carrier is not complete without the picturesque Centennial Fountain. Some may be surprised to learn that the fountain was added to the space in 2008 as a gift from the Board of Visitors during the 100th anniversary of JMU’s founding. Others may be surprised to discover that the front, or north-facing side, of Carrier took a long hiatus as an entrance and was only reopened for that purpose in 2016.

The Centennial fountain in front of Carrier was added in 2008.
(Photo: By Mike Miriello (’09M))

The seeds of the current renovation and expansion can be traced back to 2017, when the need for an expanded library was outlined in the campus master plan. Fast forward to 2022 and the Virginia General Assembly allocated the necessary funds to expand Carrier. The overhaul started promptly after the 2022-23 school year ended. Students who returned in August did not find the familiar, welcoming doors of Carrier open. Instead, they encountered the haunting scaffold of a three-story building.

A student writes a message during a farewell event prior to the start of the current renovation.
(Photo: By Steve Aderton (’19))

But do not fret. Our precious Carrier will return in Fall 2026 better than ever, boasting many upgrades. The transition won’t be easy, but it will be temporary and, in the long run, we will benefit from a wonderful addition to the university.

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