Swem Library

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The Earl Gregg Swem Library is located at 400 Landrum Drive (formerly Old Campus Drive), across new campus from Andrews Hall at the William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. William and Mary has been consistently ranked in the top 10 in the Princeton Review rankings of best college libraries in recent years.[1] The library is named for Earl Gregg Swem (1870-1965), University Librarian (1920-1944) and Librarian Emeritus (1945-1965) (see the minutes of the Board of Visitors, May 11, 1963, p. 162-164). William and Mary's first building constructed to serve as a library was dedicated in 1909 and opened simply as the Library. The building is today known as Tucker Hall.

Swem Library, 1966
Construction: 1964-1966
Renovations: 1986-1988, 1998-2005
Named for: Earl Gregg Swem
Map it

Abbreviated History of Swem Library

By Frederick P. Gibbs, Class of 1958, August 2007

When the Wren Building opened for business in 1697, somewhere on the second floor a nascent-library was evolving. The initial books were donations, at least several of them from the personal library of Francis Nicholson. This generous patronage from Virginia’s governor inspired the donations from other prominent citizens and allowed the school to build its library without spending its capital. At first the library was “theological,” as would befit an institution devoted to the training of clergy. In time would come books on history, travel, biography and commerce. By the end of the century a college official was overseeing this expanding collection of treasured volumes, all placed on shelves, all arranged according to size…….

……. and all incinerated in a fire that ravaged the Wren in the fall of 1705. With funds from Queen Anne a new building was completed by 1716 and, to encourage local citizens to help replenish the rebuilt library with donations of their own, the library went public by extending its services to the neighboring residents.

With the death of founding president James Blair in 1743 the dominant “theological” tone of the library yielded to an escalation of classics as Blair’s successor, William Dawson, began staffing the faculty with former colleagues of Queen’s College, Oxford. This change in the library’s composition was soon followed by the range of scientific curiosity shortly before the earliest rumblings of revolution were heard. “Electricity” was all the rage then, as were the physics lectures of William Small and the recent publications by the men of science. As the library added the category of natural sciences, the university in 1761 appointed its first official librarian.

Surviving the Revolution and left remarkably unscathed, except for the theft of volumes by troops from both sides, by war’s end the nearly 3,000 books in the university library made it the second largest of its kind in North America, after Harvard. As William and Mary approached its centennial in 1793, donations from the country’s former ally France added another thousand volumes. Official regulations for use of the library were posted: students were to pay ten shillings a year for use of the facility; and after leaving a deposit equal to the book’s value, could borrow only one book at a time between 9 and 10 on Monday and Friday mornings, and would forfeit the deposit if the book was damaged, or replace it if lost.

From the earliest days of the university to the close of the 19th century when a collection of 6,000 books was available only two hours a day to faculty and a student body shy of 200, and when Blanche Moncure, tapped librarian in 1899, became the university’s first female administrative officer, the library remained in the Wren, which fires victimized in 1859 and 1862. In the dawn of the next century, during the lengthy presidency of Lyon Gardiner Tyler, a 30’ by 80’ brick edifice (where Tucker Hall now stands) was built to accommodate a burgeoning library. By 1919 the one-story structure contained a collection of 18,000 volumes. That year welcomed the presidency of Julian A. C. Chandler and an era of campus construction – Blow Gymnasium, Phi Beta Kappa Hall, Rogers and Washington, dormitories for men and coeds, and an expansion of the library from one story to three.

Enter Earl Gregg Swem

As President Chandler observed the upward and outward enlargement of Tucker Hall to provide adequate space for the steady influx of new books, he realized the necessity of hiring a professional to manage and develop a library that in a few decades would rank commendably among Southern colleges.

Born in Iowa in 1870 and the recipient of both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree from Lafayette University, Earl Gregg Swem had been associated with the Library of Congress and the Virginia State Library and was a recognized bibliographer of manuscripts and historical records before he arrived on campus in 1920. During his 25-year tenure as university librarian, Swem saw the quantity of books increase from 25,000 to more than 240,000, established the Archives and Manuscript Department, opened the stacks to both students and the public, taught classes in library science and edited the William and Mary Quarterly. He retired on July 1, 1944, and died in 1965 at the age of 94.

By the early 1950s concern mounted about the threatening inadequacies of the library. A 1959 plan to replace Tucker Hall with a larger facility at the western end of the Sunken Garden was abandoned. With the new administration of Davis Y. Paschall in 1961 came the development of a new campus west of the existing one. During Homecoming Weekend 1963 a groundbreaking ceremony prepared the way for the new 136,000-square-foot library which William and Mary's Board of Visitors chose to name for Dr. Swem. The doors officially opened January 4, 1966.

By the 1980s, the need for additional shelving resulted in an addition added to all four floors of the front of the building. A decade later, there were critical space needs for Special Collections, computers, and group study rooms. In 1998, ground was broken for two three-story pavilions which were added to the east side of the library. The larger pavilion features a spacious reading room on the first floor and compact shelving throughout; the smaller houses special collections, rare books, the university archives, and the papers and memorabilia of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger. As it presently stands, the Early Gregg Swem Library was rededicated on Charter Day, 2005.


  • “The Library of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, 1693-1793,” by John M. Jennings
  • “Swem Library History,” an oral presentation by Susan Riggs


Detailed discussions of plans for the library were held in 1963 (Minutes of the Board of Visitors, January 5, 1963, p. 84-92; March 23, 1963, p. 135-138) and the groundbreaking ceremonies were held later that year on October 11, 1963, at Phi Beta Kappa Hall. The actual groundbreaking occurred a few weeks after the ceremonies. (The Flat Hat, 11 January 1963, 1) The cornerstone of the library was laid on October 22, 1964, and the building was scheduled for completion around December 1965. (The Flat Hat, 17 September 1965, 4) The building officially opened on January 4, 1966, although it was not fully complete. (The Flat Hat, 14 January 1966, 1) The official dedication ceremony for the library was held on Charter Day, February 12, 1966. The Tucker-Coleman Room of the library was dedicated on November 11, 1966. (Minutes of the Board of Visitors, January 14, 1967, 320; The Flat Hat, 11 November 1966, 1)

At the time of its completion, the ground floor of Swem Library contained the Botetourt Gallery, an auditorium, the Institute of Early American History and Culture offices, a rare book room, an honors room, a museum, an audio/visual department, a film preview room, and a faculty lounge. The first floor contained a reserve room, an after-hours reading room, a reference department, and typing and meeting rooms. The second floor contained administration rooms, conference rooms, and stacks. The dedication for the Botetourt Theater read: "Botetourt Auditorium - In memory of J.A.C. Chandler, 18th President of the College - by Chancellor and Mrs. A.D. Chandler." ('Botetourt Gallery and Theater," Swem Library Subject Files)


A fire in the Botetourt Theater in 1972 destroyed a projection booth. (The Flat Hat, 12 May 1972, 1.)

Additions and Renovations

A Micro Computer Lab opened in the library on February 13, 1984. (William and Mary News, 24 January 1984, 5)


Construction officially began on an addition to the front of the library on March 3, 1986, to provide extra stack space, reading areas, administrative offices, and a 24-hour study room and snack area. O.K. James Construction Co. led construction.[1] The addition was dedicated on February 5, 1988.


A seven-year renovation was officially completed in 2005 with rededication ceremonies officially marking the completion on February 5, 2005, during the university's Charter Day weekend. See also the Swem Library Building Project online exhibit.

Swem Library after most recent addition and renovation completed, 2005
Construction: 1966-1968
Renovations: 1986-1988, 1998-2005
Map it

Construction timeline:

  • October 16, 1992: Inauguration of Timothy J. Sullivan: "find th emeans...to create a library worthy of a great university in the technological age."
  • March 17, 1998: State allocates $25 million for Swem Library project
  • April 24, 1998: Official groundbreaking
  • February/March 1999: Construction begins
  • January 2001: Move of Special Collections staff and collections to temporary space in Toano
  • January 2001: Structural floor cracks discovered; request to state for $4.6 million for remediation
  • April 2001: Approval of additional funding from state
  • July 2001: $4.6 million in additional funds received
  • October 2001: 98,000 square ft. addition opens, ground and first floors open
  • November 2001: Second and third floors open
  • January 26, 2004: Renovated third floor opens
  • February 2004: Renovated second floor opens
  • March 23, 2004: First floor Information Commons opens
  • November 2004: Return of Special Collections staff and collections to Swem Library
  • December 20, 2004: Completion of Warren E. Burger Office exhibit
  • February 1, 2005: Completion of Warren E. Burger Special Collections Wing
  • February 4, 2005: Completion of building project
  • February 5, 2005: Rededication of Swem Library

Summary of the project from Facilities Planning and Construction:

  • Cost: $ 36.3-million
  • Fund Source - General Fund, GOB/BCBA and Private Funds
  • Renovation GSF: 168,105
  • Expansion GSF: 100,009
  • Start Date:
  • Finish Date: December 2004
  • Progress: The Media Center and ground floor are complete. All public portions of the building are now occupied. The Special Collections area is complete. The Building Committee has been dissolved.[2]

The campus heating and cooling project provided for construction of a centralized cooling and heating plant for New Campus, housed in the new Swem Library Pavilion B. Phase 1 installed distribution piping through the new campus. Phase 2 included the installation of chillers and supporting equipment in the basement of Swem. Phases 3 and 4 provide distribution and hook-up to the New Campus facilities from Swem.

  • Cost: $ 4.8-million
  • Fund Source - General Fund and GOB/VCBA
  • GSF: Not applicable
  • Start Date: May 2003
  • Finish Date: August 2004
  • Design Team: RMF Engineering
  • Contractor: Phase II only –Hampton Roads Mechanical
  • Progress: Completed.[3]


In 2009, the Writing Center and the Center for Geospatial Analysis are moving to Swem Library.

Botetourt Gallery

The Botetourt Gallery in the Swem Library Virtual Tour.

Statues of Lord Botetourt

A unique historical monument, the Botetourt statue commemorates a popular governor of the colony of Virginia, Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt. Born in England in 1717 into a family which had already furnished the colony with one governor (Sir William Berkeley), Lord Botetourt was appointed Governor-General in August of 1768. Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt was so revered by the Virginians that in fact they erected a statue in his memory which stood first at the Old Capitol building and then was purchased by the William & Mary in 1801. Barring a brief period during the Civil War when it was moved to the Public Asylum for safety, it stood in the College Yard until 1958 when it was removed for protection from the elements, and then installed in the new Earl Gregg Swem Library in 1966 in the Botetourt Gallery. A bronze replica created by William & Mary alumnus Gordon Kray was installed in the College Yard in 1993.

A video about the statues of Baron de Botetourt is available via YouTube.


As of 2008, the following portraits were displayed in the Botetourt Gallery:

  • John Lesslie Hall (1856-1928). Professor of English (1888-1928), Dean of the Faculty (1905-1928). Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist, Adele Williams. Signed "Adele Williams" in top left corner.
  • J. Wilfred Lambert (1906-1986), Dean of Students 1945-1969. Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist, David Silvette. Painted in 1981. Signed by artist.
  • W. Melville Jones (1901-1992), Professor of English at William and Mary (1928-1971), Dean of the Faculty (1958-1964), Dean of the College (1964-1968), university’s first vice president in 1968, Chancellor Professor of English, Emeritus (1971). Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist, Thomas E. Thorne. Painted in 1965. Signed by artist.
  • Kremer Jacob Hoke (1878-1944), Professor of Education (1920-1944), Dean of the College (1922-1938), Dean of the School of Education (1934-1938). Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist, Ellis M. Silvette.
  • James Hardy Dillard (1856-1940), Member, Board of Visitors (1918-1940), Rector (1919-1940). Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist Bethuel Moore. Painted in 1936. Property sticker #253714 Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Kate Waller Barrett (1858-1925) Member, Board of Visitors (1921-1925). Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist Eugenie Deland Sangstad. Signed by the artist, "Eugenie Deland Sangstad 1928".
  • Westmoreland Davis (1859-1942), Governor of Virginia 1918-1922, known for increasing funding to Virginia's colleges and universities. Portrait, oil on canvas. Artist, Leopold Seyffert.
  • Marguerite Davis (1867-1963). Portrait, oil on canvas. Artist, Irving Ramsay Wiles, signed and dated, "Irving R. Wiles / 1931". Plaque reads "Mrs. Westmoreland Davis/In Recognition of her World War work, and of the love and courage with which Mrs. Davis ministered unto our suffering people of Virginia In the Epidemic of Influenza, 1918, this Portrait is presented by Friends to the College of William & Mary.”
  • Molly Elliot Seawell, Virginia author and essayist (1860-1916), grandniece of President John Tyler. Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist J.W.L. Forster, inscribed JWL Forster. Inscribed on a sticker on verso of painting "Muscarelle Museum of Art College of William & Mary Williamsburg" and inscribed on frame "1860-1916".
  • John Tyler, Sr. (1747-1813), lawyer, judge, Governor of Virginia (1808-1811), father of John Tyler, Jr. the 10th President of the United States. Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist Bessie Dennison Williams.
  • James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) Class of 1898; author and critic. Portrait, oil painting on canvas. Artist, Jean Field. [Note: This portrait is currently on loan to the James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia.]

A video tour of the Botetourt Gallery is available via YouTube.


Pieces by Carl Roseberg are also displayed in the Botetourt Gallery and throughout Swem Library. Images of Roseberg sculptures are available on Flickr.

Media Center

The Media Center's website.

The Media Center in the Swem Library Virtual Tour.

Special Collections Research Center

The Special Collections Research Center's website.

The Special Collections Research Center in the Swem Library Virtual Tour.

Collection Statistics

Taken from About the Library (on 22 August 2009):

  • Books 1,276,876
  • Government Documents 594,082
  • Serials 5,404
  • Microforms 1,463,470
  • Archives* 7,705
  • Cartographic Materials 23,143
  • Sound Recordings 21,320
  • Film and Video 7,568
  • Computer Files 1,189

Swem Library's logo, a stylized depiction of one of the great circular windows in William and Mary's Wren Building, symbolically links the past and the future. As a prominent feature of the the oldest academic building in continuous use in America and the building which once housed the university's library, the window logo symbolizes the library's long and rich history. It also symbolizes the library's dynamic past and promising future. As the intellectual center of the campus, Swem Library takes in new knowledge and makes it available to students and faculty who themselves add to the world's knowledge. Thus the spokes and rings of the window symbolize this never ending process of knowledge coming in, enriching the university community, and radiating out to enrich the rest of the world. Furthermore, like every library, Swem Library is a window to the world of knowledge.

Nancy H. Marshall Award

The Nancy H. Marshall Award was established in 1997 by the Friends of the Library to recognize an individual's commitment and exceptional contribution to the Earl Gregg Swem Library. The award was named in honor of its first recipient who served as Dean of University Libraries from 1986-1997. The Marshall Award was given by the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library on behalf of entire Friends Organization.

Past winners:

  • 1997: Nancy H. Marshall
  • 1997: Paul McCarthy '77
  • 1999: Christian Vineyard '70
  • 2005: Ronald J. Monark '61 and Winfred ("Fred") O. Ward '54
  • Gillian T. Cell, Provost, 1993-2003 (year to be verified)

Material in the Special Collections Research Center


Flat Hat, W&M News, Alumni Gazette

  • The Flat Hat student newspaper; most issues are available online through the W&M Digital Archive. The William & Mary News and Alumni Gazette are available in paper form in Special Collections and on microfilm in Swem Library.
  • College plans new library Flat Hat, September 16, 1958, page 12.
  • College announces fund drive Flat Hat, February 10, 1959, page 2.
  • Board of Visitors authorizes removing Botetourt Statue indoors Flat Hat, November 18, 1958. Page 1, 10.
  • 'Dream' Library soon to become reality Flat Hat, October 13, 1961. Page 20 (Picture)
  • Appeal for bonds Alumni Gazette, Winter 1961. Page 4
  • Sale of Bonds bolsters library Flat Hat, September 28, 1962. Page 11; Alumni Gazette October 1962. Page 18.
  • Plans for College Library ready for student comment Flat Hat, October 19, 1962. Page 3
  • Library proposed Alumni Gazette, October 1962. Page 18
  • Plan completion sought Flat Hat, February 22, 1963. Page 12
  • Extensive new library draws nearer reality Flat Hat, March 8, 1963. Page 1 (Picture)
  • New library named for Swem Flat Hat, May 17, 1963. Page 15 (Picture)
  • Beginning of construction Alumni Gazette, May 1963. Pages 2-4
  • 'Special' features highlight library Flat Hat, October 11, 1963. Page 4A (Pictures)
  • Ceremony for Earl Gregg Swem Flat Hat, October 11, 1963. Page 1A (Pictures). Alumni Gazette, October 1963. Pages 17-18.
  • Open bidding begins Flat Hat, November 22, 1963. Page 3.
  • James A. Services, librarian, discusses new library Alumni Gazette, May 1963. Pages 5-6.
  • Swem's statement to be placed in cornerstone Alumni Gazette, December 1963. Page 17.
  • New Library opens Alumni Gazette, March 1966. Pages 5-8
  • Tucker-Coleman and Marcia Childress Rooms dedicated Alumni Gazette, December 1966. Page 7.
  • Fire breaks out; Botetourt Theater closed Flat Hat, May 12, 1972. Page 1.
  • Settling of building, stability questioned Flat Hat, January 23, 1976. Page 3.
  • Will complete fourth floor William and Mary News, September 23, 1983. Pages 1, 5.
  • Correction Flat Hat, September 30, 1983. Page 1.
  • General Assembly to consider bond to support colleges Flat Hat, December 9, 1983. Pages 1, 3.
  • Renovations to start Flat Hat, April 19, 1985. Page 2 (Pictures).
  • Plans for additions to Library made Flat Hat, August 30, 1985. Page 5.
  • First floor of library to move around C, January 20, 1972. Page 3.
  • Minor repairs improve appearance Flat Hat, September 24, 1976. Page 5.
  • Protest over addition to Swem; Students provide alternatives Flat Hat, October 18, 1985. Page 7, 9 (Picture).
  • Swem construction to begin this month Flat Hat, February 7, 1986. Page 3.
  • Work begins on Swem Library addition; expected to be completed by late 1987 William and Mary News, February 26, 1986. Page 1, 6 (Picture).
  • Swem construction underway; closes main entrance Flat Hat, March 14, 1986. Page 3 (Picture).
  • Construction on addition begins Alumni Gazette, April, 1986. Page 23.
  • Construction underway William and Mary News, August 27, 1986. Page 3, 6 (Picture).
  • Campus constructing slightly behind schedule Flat Hat, August 29, 1986. Page 1 (Picture).
  • Construction behind schedule Flat Hat, November 14, 1986. Page 5 (Picture).
  • Vandalism ongoing problem Flat Hat, November 21, 1986. Page 2 (Picture).
  • Building boom on campus adds to Swem Alumni Gazette, March 1987. Page 4, 5 (Picture).
  • New art enlivens library walls William and Mary News, August 31, 1988. Page 8 (Picture).
  • Cameras provide security Flat Hat, September 9, 1988. Page 3 (Picture).
  • Roof repairs fail to prevent leak in Swem stacks Flat Hat, November 16, 1992. Page 6.
  • Hall names researched Flat Hat, November 4, 1994. Page 9, 10.
  • Addition and renovation planned Alumni Gazette, March 1994. Page 25 (Picture).
  • Capital projects Alumni Gazette, October 1994. Page 18. William and Mary News, October 5, 1994. Page 1.
  • Swem seeks storage Flat Hat, February 10, 1995. Page 2.
  • Major hurdle cleared library expansion William and Mary News, October 4, 1995. Pages 1,6 (Picture).
  • SCHEV clears way for expansion Alumni Gazette, December 1995. Page 12.
  • Senate finance co-chair takes stock of library library needs William and Mary News, July 17, 1996. Page 1 (Picture).
  • First phase of expansion William and Mary News, October 6, 1996. Page 2 (Pictures). Flat Hat, October 25, 1996. Page 4.
  • College starts fund-raising drive to expand Swem Library Flat Hat, November 22, 1996. Page 1, 2 (Picture).
  • It isn't just a space renovation Flat Hat, December 6, 1996. Page 4.
  • "Swem for Life" Alumni Gazette, December 1996. Page 2 (Picture).
  • Sullivan seeks Construction funding William and Mary News, January 16, 1997. Pages 2, 6 (Picture).
  • Assembly plans renovation meeting Flat Hat, January 24, 1997. Page 2.
  • Sullivan discusses improvements Flat Hat, January 31, 1997. Pages 1, 3 (Picture).
  • Students return from Richmond Flat Hat, January 31, 1997. Pages 1,6.
  • Swem improvements Flat Hat, January 31, 1997. Page 16.
  • Top budget initiative William and Mary News, October 30, 1997. Pages 1, 2.
  • $24 million proposed for Swem William and Mary News, January 16, 1998. Pages 1, 3.
  • Allen proposes money for Swem renovations Flat Hat, January 30, 1998. Page 2 (Picture).
  • Sullivan, SA lobby for funds Flat Hat, February 6, 1998. Pages 1, 5 (Picture).
  • Private support hits $4.4 million William and Mary News, February 12, 1998. Pages 2, 7.
  • Funding in final stage Flat Hat, February 27, 1998. Pages 1, 2 (Picture).
  • Students go to Richmond to "Sink or Swem" Alumni Gazette, Spring 1998. Page 5 (Picture).
  • Breaking ground Flat Hat, April 24, 1998. Pages 1, 7 (Picture).
  • Growing pains to close parts of Landrum drive Flat Hat, May 1, 1998. Page 12.
  • Ground broken on Swem expansion William and Mary News, May 7, 1998. Page 5.
  • Preparations under way for expansion William and Mary News, June 25, 1998. Page 3.
  • Library to receive makeover Flat Hat, August 28, 1998. Page 4 (Picture).
  • Parking update William and Mary News, July 22, 1999. Page 3.
  • Flooding slows, but doesn't stop, construction Flat Hat, September 24, 1999. Page 6 (Picture).
  • Hard hat area Alumni Gazette, Fall 1999. Page 8 (Picture).
  • Construction update William and Mary News, November 30, 1999. Page 7.
  • Chiles Larson prints displayed in Botetourt Gallery William and Mary News, November 30, 1999. Page 8 (Picture).
  • Eyesore, no more Flat Hat, April 14, 2000. Page 4 (Picture).
  • Swem renovations continue Flat Hat, August 25, 2000. Page 4.
  • Swem construction workers as seen from other side of fence Flat Hat, November 3, 2000. Page 7, 10 (Picture).
  • Summer renovations revive College buildings Flat Hat, August 23, 2002. Page 2 (Picture).
  • Swem Library renovations create detours Flat Hat, August 30, 2002. Pages 1, 4.


  • "Building and Grounds--Swem Library," University Archives Subject File Collection, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, William & Mary.
  • The Library of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, 1693-1793, (on campus access only) John M. Jennings, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1968. Call number: Z733 .W686 J4.
  • Earl Gregg Swem Library Records, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, William & Mary.
  • The Flat Hat

External Links

In the News

Need help?

To search for further material, visit the Special Collections Research Center's Search Tool List for an overview of the Special Collections Database, W&M Digital Archive, Flat Hat-William & Mary News-Alumni Gazette index, card catalogs, and other tools available to help you find material of interest in William & Mary Libraries Special Collections Research Center.

Questions? Contact the Special Collections Research Center at spcoll@wm.edu or 757-221-3090, or visit the Special Collections Research Center in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at William & Mary.

A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.
  1. The Flat Hat, 14 March 1986, 3.