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Background and History

James Branch Cabell Library is the busiest academic library in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It sees more than 2 million visitors annually--most of them undergraduate students--and runs an around-the-clock operation to meet the needs of VCU’s diverse student population.  

Cabell Library is the physical center of VCU’s urban Monroe Park Campus. The modern university—created in 1968 with the merger of the Medical College of Virginia and the Richmond Professional Institute—literally grew up around Cabell, which is situated between the VCU Student Commons and the Shafer Court Dining Center, and is flanked by an arts center, classrooms, University College and within a quick walk to historic buildings Founder’s Hall, Ginter House and others on Franklin Street and Cathedral Place. The Cathedral of the Sacred Heart is in our front yard—a shady green space. Cabell sits on "The Compass" a brick plaza that is a bustling center of VCU community life—from games playing and impromptu performances to political protests and voter registration drives.

A new library will soon be built adjacent to Cabell and the new front door will face The Compass.

Construction begins in 2014. The iconic new building will open in fall semester 2015, providing a new focal point on campus. The 1970s facade will be updated and the interior will offer include enhanced workspaces of all types and for all users. Read more about the New Library on Monroe Park.

Cabell Library is committed to continuous improvement in all aspects of service. Recent changes:

  • Extended hours to 24-hour operations during peak times (operating Sunday 10 a.m. to Friday 10 p.m. without closing during fall and spring semesters).
  • Innovative Media department expanded to plan a cutting-edge new space in the new building and provide higher levels of service and instruction in multimedia. 
  • New Research Data Management department and new data management online tool provide important resources for researchers who are required to develop plans for data from funders, peer reviewers and others.
  • Single service desk for Information Services streamlines walk-up services for students.

The Collection

VCU Libraries expends the majority of its collections funds on journal subscriptions. Overall, the VCU Libraries invested 54 percent of its funding in library materials during academic year 2011-12. In academic year 2012-13, VCU funded the first year of a multi-year plan to grow its libraries in a way commensurate with the University’s scope and ambitions. Funds to acquire library materials were increased by $922,000, and the VCU Libraries projects expenditures for library materials to total about $9.6 million in 2012-13. More about the Collection 

Education and Consultation

Academic Outreach work places librarians in many roles working closely with faculty, graduate and undergraduate students. Cabell’s librarians are embedded in schools, programs and departments. Subject-matter experts consult with faculty on scholarly communication trends, copyright, Open Access, collection development, new course materials and more. They provide one-on-one research consultations, by walk-ins or appointments, and answer inquiries around-the-clock via chat and text. See our list of library liaisons.    

Formal instruction is a key part of faculty and student support, providing orientations, course-integrated library instruction, and as-needed creation of virtual learning tools and modules.  In addition to upper-division courses, Cabell Library staff members work closely with faculty with two of VCU’s Core Curriculum courses, UNIV 112 and UNIV 200, to provide course-integrated instruction for these required-sequence courses. Altogether, the VCU Libraries provides about 1,000 library instructional sessions each year.

Librarians also manage an extensive collection of online research guides that provide answers to common research questions, and resources and services for specific disciplines and programs, along with embedded tutorials and contact information. These resources are designed to provide comprehensive assistance to off-campus learners and programs. These guides are accessible worldwide, along with digital resources they include or to which they are linked.   

Special Collections and Archives

Special Collections and Archives holdings include distinguished special collections in comic arts, book art, and regional community historical documents. VCU Libraries’ comic arts collection ranks among the largest such collections in North America, with approximately 155,000 individual comics along with tens of thousands of seminal reference works, historical documents, and artifacts.  Special Collections also include manuscripts, university archives, and extensive digital collections that include  oral histories, historically significant photographs, and documents and materials from minority, activist and fine arts communities in Virginia.

Community Engagement

Our free educational and cultural programming helps forge a lasting connection to Central Virginia. Annual signature events inclue standing-room-only Black History Month Lecture and the Brown-Lyons Lecture series, which features explorations of faith, creativity and culture with Jack Spiro, a revered VCU professor. Each year's VCU Libraries Presents ... offers something new and fresh. We form partnerships with other departments and community groups. These have included partnerships with the Cabell First Novelist Award and the James River Writers. In 2012-13, VCU Libraries sponsored 15 public events with attendance of more than 5,000 people. 

Active, engaged and generous members of Friends of the Library make many of these events possible through their financial support. Illustrating our broad base of support, 68 percent of our donations in 2012-13 came from community members--people who are not alumni or faculty or staff of VCU. Total giving to our annual fund increased by 25 percent and the average annual gift increased by 45 percent. 


VCU Libraries

James Branch Cabell Library Monroe Park Campus
901 Park Ave., Box 842033
Richmond, VA 23284-2033
Toll-free: (844) 352-7399
(804) 828-1111
All Libraries
Tompkins-McCaw Library MCV Campus
509 N. 12th St., Box 980582
Richmond, VA 23298-0582
Toll-free: (844) 352-7399
(804) 828-0636

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