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Hidden treasures between the shelves at UNC libraries

At UNC, history can be revisited through the campus libraries. Whether that be in the form of 3-D artifacts or historical rooms, students can get a glimpse of the past.

In Wilson Library, Linda Jacobson, the keeper of the North Carolina Collections Gallery, said they have a few treasured items the University acquired over the years. Jacobson said a collector brings items to the library every year, sometimes hundreds at a time. 

“We have five percent, if that, on exhibit,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson said there are artifacts that are not on display at the moment. These items are stored and come out on special occasions. However, there is still plenty to see at Wilson Library.

In the NC Collections Gallery, Jacobson said items are collected relating to people, places and events of North Carolina. A plaque was placed at Old East in 1793, and when the campus closed when Reconstruction hit after the Civil War, it disappeared. This plaque was discovered a hundred years ago in Tennessee by a UNC alumni who saved it from being melted. The plaque is having its one hundredth anniversary this year of returning to the University.  

Jacobson said the library has a pocket watch from Elisha Mitchell, who was a professor at the University. He fell to his death when re-measuring what he thought was the highest mountain, and the pocket watch supposedly stopped when he died. 

Jacobson said there are historical rooms at the NC Collections Gallery, like the one dedicated to Sir Walter Raleigh. The room has furniture and paneling dated around his time. 

“The librarians at the time and a few others wanted to create a space where people could use the Sir Walter Raleigh’s collection in an atmosphere of the time in which he lived,” she said.

Jason Tomberlin, the head of research and instructional services for Wilson Library, said there is a variety to see, including a Rare Book Collection, the University Archives and the Southern Folklife Collection. 

“Curiosity is a perfectly fine reason to come here,” Tomberlin said.

Tomberlin said Wilson Library holds C. S. Lewis’ personal library. People can come in and take a look at the books he owned and see his notes. He said Andy Griffith, a UNC graduate, donated his personal letters as well as his guitar, which he played at the Pleasants Family Assembly Room. 

Dawne Lucas, the special collections librarian at the Health Sciences Library, said they have a large collection of medical instruments. She said some of the items are considered "pseudo-science," which are objects that were used for medical purposes at one point, but are now not considered as usable for medicine — an example is the Phrenology bust. 

“Phrenology was the study of shape and size of someone’s head and it was supposed to indicate the character and mental abilities of that person,” Lucas said.

Lucas said they have cupping glasses. This practice was used during the swimming portion of the Olympics this year. 

"There is so much here that it's just trying to think of things that could peak individual interest," Tomberlin said.

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