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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, built adjacent to Cabell, opened in 2015-16. Its front doors are on The Compass. Facing this major pedestrian walkway is the Cabell Big Screen, a 21-by-24-feet media display.  

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

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 the standing-room-only Black History Month Lecture  

About Cabell's 'Big Screen'

Epitomizing the innovative approaches to architecture and student space throughout James Branch Cabell Library is The Vitrine or the big screen, positioned on the building’s northern façade overlooking the campus’ main pedestrian intersection. The screen has been installed with the hope to enchant, delight and educate the tens of thousands of VCU community members who pass by daily. This media façade is approximately 400-square feet of digital exhibition space, 21 feet wide by 24 feet tall.

It is/will be programmed with visually-engaging presentations including animation, short films, kinetic-art projects and rotating still images, and it is intended to showcase art, scientific images, library collections, data visualizations of research and other creative expressions appropriate for an academic research library. The screen is not a billboard or jumbotron for advertising or promotional messaging. Instead, it is a platform for artistic and cultural expression, a way to make visible the unique expressions of the VCU academic and artistic community. Even on rare occasions when the screen will showcase a landmark campus event or a significant library event, the presentation will be artful or artlike. VCU Libraries looks forward to building close working relationships with all creators and faculty on campus and particularly those in the School of the Arts and associated with the ICA’s programming.

Some common questions

  • The screen has no sound. It will be not be used to show sporting events or films.
  • It is the only such screen used by a library east of California. The library at California State University at Fresno has one and it is used as an art installation.
  • In early printed and web materials, the screen was referred to as a “Vitrine”--an architectural term and also an object defined as a glass cabinet or case, especially for displaying art objects. At VCU, either the term “big screen” or “The Vitrine” or “vitrine” is correct. In text or conversation, the screen may be referred to as a “media façade” or “The Cabell Screen.”
  • Interested in tuning in but cannot come to campus? You can watch via the Cabell Webcam, which sweeps by the media facade once per minute. http://ramcam.vcu.edu/cabell/

Exhibits for the big screen

  • “Exhibits” will be groups of 6 to 20 multiple related images or gifs, each displayed for 20 to 25 seconds.
  • Stand alone video or kinetic installations shorter than five minutes will also be shown.
  • A team will be selecting and soliciting “exhibits”/content for the big screen, which will be programmed at irregular hours and mostly during high-traffic times at the library. (Most exhibits will be announced in advance in news articles or on social media.) The screen will be dark most evenings and on weekends.  
  • Artworks displayed will have ties to VCU and be the work of students, faculty, alumni or feature public art (such as the RVA mural project, for example, or art associated with First Friday) in the VCU neighborhood.

 Quality and types of exhibits 

  • Images and videos with simple shapes and colors tend to look best on the big screen.
  • Text should be minimal.
  • Logos are prohibited.
  • Shapes and text on a black background are easiest to read.
  • Generally, drawn or animated images look better than detailed photographs or videos, because the photographs are too detailed and can look pixelated when viewed too close.
  • We are particularly interested in artworks that are created especially for the big screen.


Among the types of exhibits VCU Libraries envisions 

  • Student showcases (where students submit their work).
  • Soundless video from annual fashion show.
  • Soundless video from dance.
  • Digital exhibit to showcase items on display in library buildings.
  • Thesis and senior finale shows (faculty submit selected images from end-of-semester shows). [Maybe add a Cabell “prize”]
  • Faculty showcases (where a faculty member submits a selection of his/her works to share with the community).
  • Alumni showcases (an alumna or alumnus agrees to show a curated selection of works at his/her alma mater).
  • Class exhibit (a faculty member assigns the big screen as a medium for student work and the works are published on the big screen).
  • Silent film shorts, animations, gif, etc.

Technical information 

  • The transparent digital façade faces Shafer Court and can be seen from Franklin Street.
  • The screen is a combination of woven, semi-transparent stainless-steel structure, created by GKD Metal Fabrics, which allows daylight into the building. Embedded in the structure are Daktronics LED lights and infrastructure.  It is a visual medium only (no sound) and is not high-definition.  
  • 21 feet wide by 24 feet high  
  • The screen is manufactured by Daktronics of Brookings, S.D. and GKDMETALFABRICS.
  • Trademarked name is MEDIAMESH.
  • Daktronics builds large-format LED video displays, message displays, scoreboards, digital billboards and other systems that are used in sports, business, transportation and educational settings. www.daktronics.com.
  • GKDMETALFABRICS an engineering firm produces metallic woven fabrics and produced the semi-transparent, stainless-steel structure that houses the LED lights. www.gkdmediamesh.com

Information for artists and creators

  • Resolution - 128 x 144 px (horizontal x vertical)
  • Aspect ratio - 8:9 (1:1.125)
  • Pixel configuration -  2-red, 2-green, 2-blue RGB
  • Color processing -  48-bit (3x6)
  • Image processing - 22-bit
  • LED refresh rate - 1,000 Hz
  • Brightness - 8,750 NITS
  • Total pixels - 18,432 pxs.
  • Total LEDs - 110,592 pieces

About Cabell's 'Big Screen'

Epitomizing the innovative approaches to architecture and student space throughout James Branch Cabell Library is The Vitrine or the big screen, positioned on the building’s northern façade overlooking the campus’ main pedestrian intersection. The screen has been installed with the hope to enchant, delight and educate the tens of thousands of VCU community members who pass by daily. This media façade is approximately 400-square feet of digital exhibition space, 21 feet wide by 24 feet tall.

It is/will be programmed with visually-engaging presentations including animation, short films, kinetic-art projects and rotating still images, and it is intended to showcase art, scientific images, library collections, data visualizations of research and other creative expressions appropriate for an academic research library. The screen is not a billboard or jumbotron for advertising or promotional messaging. Instead, it is a platform for artistic and cultural expression, a way to make visible the unique expressions of the VCU academic and artistic community. Even on rare occasions when the screen will showcase a landmark campus event or a significant library event, the presentation will be artful or artlike. VCU Libraries looks forward to building close working relationships with all creators and faculty on campus and particularly those in the School of the Arts and associated with the ICA’s programming.

Some common questions

  • The screen has no sound. It will be not be used to show sporting events or films.
  • It is the only such screen used by a library east of California. The library at California State University at Fresno has one and it is used as an art installation.
  • In early printed and web materials, the screen was referred to as a “Vitrine”--an architectural term and also an object defined as a glass cabinet or case, especially for displaying art objects. At VCU, either the term “big screen” or “The Vitrine” or “vitrine” is correct. In text or conversation, the screen may be referred to as a “media façade” or “The Cabell Screen.”
  • Interested in tuning in but cannot come to campus? You can watch via the Cabell Webcam, which sweeps by the media facade once per minute. http://ramcam.vcu.edu/cabell/

Exhibits for the big screen

  • “Exhibits” will be groups of 6 to 20 multiple related images or gifs, each displayed for 20 to 25 seconds.
  • Stand alone video or kinetic installations shorter than five minutes will also be shown.
  • A team will be selecting and soliciting “exhibits”/content for the big screen, which will be programmed at irregular hours and mostly during high-traffic times at the library. (Most exhibits will be announced in advance in news articles or on social media.) The screen will be dark most evenings and on weekends.  
  • Artworks displayed will have ties to VCU and be the work of students, faculty, alumni or feature public art (such as the RVA mural project, for example, or art associated with First Friday) in the VCU neighborhood.

 Quality and types of exhibits 

  • Images and videos with simple shapes and colors tend to look best on the big screen.
  • Text should be minimal.
  • Logos are prohibited.
  • Shapes and text on a black background are easiest to read.
  • Generally, drawn or animated images look better than detailed photographs or videos, because the photographs are too detailed and can look pixelated when viewed too close.
  • We are particularly interested in artworks that are created especially for the big screen.


Among the types of exhibits VCU Libraries envisions 

  • Student showcases (where students submit their work).
  • Soundless video from annual fashion show.
  • Soundless video from dance.
  • Digital exhibit to showcase items on display in library buildings.
  • Thesis and senior finale shows (faculty submit selected images from end-of-semester shows). [Maybe add a Cabell “prize”]
  • Faculty showcases (where a faculty member submits a selection of his/her works to share with the community).
  • Alumni showcases (an alumna or alumnus agrees to show a curated selection of works at his/her alma mater).
  • Class exhibit (a faculty member assigns the big screen as a medium for student work and the works are published on the big screen).
  • Silent film shorts, animations, gif, etc.

Technical information 

  • The transparent digital façade faces Shafer Court and can be seen from Franklin Street.
  • The screen is a combination of woven, semi-transparent stainless-steel structure, created by GKD Metal Fabrics, which allows daylight into the building. Embedded in the structure are Daktronics LED lights and infrastructure.  It is a visual medium only (no sound) and is not high-definition.  
  • 21 feet wide by 24 feet high  
  • The screen is manufactured by Daktronics of Brookings, S.D. and GKDMETALFABRICS.
  • Trademarked name is MEDIAMESH.
  • Daktronics builds large-format LED video displays, message displays, scoreboards, digital billboards and other systems that are used in sports, business, transportation and educational settings. www.daktronics.com.
  • GKDMETALFABRICS an engineering firm produces metallic woven fabrics and produced the semi-transparent, stainless-steel structure that houses the LED lights. www.gkdmediamesh.com

Information for artists and creators

  • Resolution - 128 x 144 px (horizontal x vertical)
  • Aspect ratio - 8:9 (1:1.125)
  • Pixel configuration -  2-red, 2-green, 2-blue RGB
  • Color processing -  48-bit (3x6)
  • Image processing - 22-bit
  • LED refresh rate - 1,000 Hz
  • Brightness - 8,750 NITS
  • Total pixels - 18,432 pxs.
  • Total LEDs - 110,592 pieces
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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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