Hundreds of people gathered inside Liberty University’s Jerry Falwell Library and the adjacent Vines Center on Wednesday morning for a special convocation to celebrate the grand opening of the school’s $50 million, state-of-the-art library.

The library — 170,000 square feet of sunlit space — is the centerpiece of the school’s multi-year $500 million reconstruction aimed at accommodating LU’s phenomenal growth.

The library marks the first building on the school’s main campus to bear the name of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr., who established the school in 1971.

In 2007, Falwell Sr. died and Jerry Falwell Jr. was appointed chancellor and president of the university.

“We’re here to honor him for his tenacity and faith,” not just what he accomplished, Falwell Jr. said Wednesday.

Falwell said his father found inspiration in Walt Disney and Vince Lombardi and despite four decades of struggle to establish the school, he persevered, finally seeing LU turn the corner in the 1990s.

His father taught him that challenges will “humble you but never humiliate you,” he said.

“My father never lost faith.”

Falwell Sr. then appeared on the nearby television monitor, his still-young voice reminding the audience of where he began.

“We are asking God to build us a college,” he said.

Wednesday’s audience featured Liberty students, faculty and staff as well as donors, local college officials, county supervisors, city council members and more, all wanting to congratulate the university and get a peek at some of the building’s latest technology.

Lynchburg Mayor Michael Gillette, one of the day’s featured speakers, congratulated the school on the “magnificent edifice,” calling it a “testament to the need to think hard and think deeply.”

Containing millennia of intellect, Gillette said the library speaks to the character of the university, and the city of Lynchburg is committed to continue working with Liberty toward the betterment of the city.

Ronald Godwin, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of the university, later recalled Falwell Sr. as a loyal and compassionate friend, who would have wanted to be part of the library’s construction.

“Big, hairy, audacious goals were Dr. Falwell’s thing,” he said.

Previously, the school’s library was housed on the first floor of the Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center, one of the academic buildings on campus. The new four-story library features an automated storage and retrieval system and is home to 250,000 items with room for another 170,000. The system allows for the retrieval of material in 10 minutes or less.

Balconies, terraces, a floating staircase, writeable walls and a vegetative roof help set the library apart.

Throughout the building, there are more than 150 public computers, information kiosks, group study rooms, quiet areas and plentiful seating. Food is welcomed, with vending machines tucked into cutouts upstairs and a small food court downstairs.

“A big part of the building is creating the right study atmosphere,” said Falwell, as guests toured the site. He said the library — and the campus academic village to come — should take care of the academic needs of students for decades to come.

From the windows of the library, the scaffolding for a new science building can be seen rising from the ground. A school of music soon will follow.

Standing in the main entryway of the sprawling library, waving their arms in front of an interactive media wall, juniors Josh Rich and Anna Claire Shellenberg already were smitten with the new library.

“I’d say I’m awestruck; it’s beautiful in here,” Rich said.

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Contact Amy Trent at (434) 385-5543 or atrent@newsadvance.com.

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