Washington and Lee University

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The James G. Leyburn Library

Brief History of the University Library

library entrance imageFormer reference librarian Betty Kondayan covers the period 1776 through 1937 in her excellent booklet, A Historical Sketch of the Library of Washington and Lee University.

For the first three-quarters of the 20th century, the W&L library was located in the current Commerce School, then called the Cyrus Hall McCormick Library. In the 1960s it became clear that our library resources were outgrowing the building, and that the university had to plan for a new library building. "The new undergraduate library will be --as the library at a good college must be-- the hub of the campus, both academically and physically." (Alumni Magazine 51, no. 6 (1976): 7). The Richmond architectural firm Marcellus,Cox & Wright designed a 130,000 square foot building, four times the size of McCormick Library. One day in January 1979, the library, under the direction of then University Librarian Maurice Leach, organized the "Great Move", during which volunteers walked over the entire book collection to the new facility, carrying them in shopping bags donated by the Leggett department store in town. For the first 15 years, the building was simply called the University Library.


James Graham Leyburn Library

On May 28, 1994, the main library building was named in memory of James Graham Leyburn (1902-1993). A poster (click to enlarge) was designed by Massachussetts artist Lancy Hidy. It shows a "tree of knowledge" in front of the library. During the celebration, University Librarian Barbara J. Brown addressed a large audience, among which were many Leyburn relatives. A portrait of James Leyburn was revealed. This portrait is currently hanging by the entrance of Northen Auditorium.

The Telford Science Library is part of the University Library, and is located in the Science Center, adjacent to Leyburn Library.




James Graham Leyburn

James G. Leyburn was a distinguished teacher, scholar, administrator, churchman, author, and mentor to generations of students at Washington and Lee University. A graduate of Trinity College (Duke), Princeton, and Yale Universities, Dr. Leyburn came to W&L from Yale in 1947 as Dean of the University. As Dean, he led the university to national prominence. In 1956 he turned to full-time teaching as head of the Department of Sociology. He taught with legendary energy and passion until his retirement in 1972. The painting above is the 2004 portrait of James G. Leyburn by New York City portrait artist Steven Polson. It can be viewed in the main lobby of the library (click to enlarge).

For more information on these topics, please consult the W&L Alumni Magazine in Special Collections.

Mailing address

The University Library
Washington and Lee University

204 West Washington Street

Lexington, VA 24450