The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday October 5th

UNC Undergraduate library celebrates 50th birthday

Students move between classes by the Robert B. House Undergraduate Library on Monday Oct. 22, 2018.
Buy Photos Students move between classes by the Robert B. House Undergraduate Library on Monday Oct. 22, 2018.

It’s 2 a.m. and a string of bleary-eyed studiers filter out of Davis Library. 

They drag their sleep-deprived bodies through the Pit and make their way 600 feet across campus, and there it is – a beacon of light in the early morning darkness, shining bright like a 24-hour diner.

They pass through the doors of the Undergraduate Library, stumble to a desk and reopen their textbooks. 

While this trek has become routine to some students, others, like Joanna Zhang, have figured out an easy solution to avoid it altogether. 

Zhang, a junior psychology and statistics double major, sets up camp in the UL from the get-go. Through the doors and to the right, that’s where she’ll be.

For half a century now, the UL has served as a favorite on-campus study spot for students. Next week, the library is celebrating its 50th birthday. 

Opening in 1968, the UL provided undergraduate students with access to resources essential to their first few years in college.

“At that time, Wilson Library was the main campus library, and it was very much a research library,” Suchi Mohanty, director of the UL, said. “It was very challenging for undergraduates to access those research collections, so people realized that undergraduates needed a space of their own and a collection they could interact with easily.”

Mohanty began working in the UL in 2002, and has since climbed the ranks to reach the very top, a position which she said would not be nearly as appealing without her co-workers.

“I love the people I work with,” Mohanty said. “In all honesty, my colleagues are really creative and they’re really dedicated to keeping the library responsive to student needs. To me, that creativity and that dedication to our students makes this a really attractive place to work.”

And students, like Zhang, find the UL an equally attractive place for them to work, too. 

“I feel like the quiet environment is a lot less stressful than the top floors of Davis,” Zhang said. “Everyone is silent, but it motivates me to be more productive. If I'm in Davis, I find it really easy to get overwhelmed.”

Maria Hye-Jin Chen graduated from the Masters of Accounting program last month, and left Chapel Hill with fond memories of the UL. 

“I always preferred the UL over Davis because it was more student friendly and not as intimidating,” Chen said. “The UL had just enough noise that it didn't feel like a prison, and there were lots of varied study spaces to get work done, whether you’re seriously cramming for a test or casually trying to finish homework.” 

Mohanty agrees that the library’s greatest strength lies in its versatility – both in study spaces and its offerings to students. 

“We’ve got a mix of everything,” Mohanty said. “We’ve got quiet study, not-so-quiet study, you can study individually or in groups, we’ve got comfortable seating. But I do think it’s that kind of atmosphere that helps set it apart.”

When it comes to technology, the library does its best to support its mission of helping others learn and create. From the design lab on the entry level to the audio and media labs on the lower level, Mohanty said there are always opportunities for students to utilize the library’s resources. 

“You can find smaller labs in different pockets on campus that are similar, but they’re only open to students in a particular class or a particular school,” Mohanty said. “Our services and facilities are open to anyone in the campus community.” 

Junior exercise and sports science major Reina Kinnaly takes full advantage of the different offerings available in the design lab. 

“I love to study in the UL because I use the Mac desktops all the time,” Kinnaly said. “I specifically use them to multitask, since the screen is so big. It’s better than my small laptop screen, so I just use it to have my calendar up and work on different assignments.”

Mohanty said she believes students recognize how much the library values them, and in return they respect the library and its staff. The 300 pieces of paper piled on her desk only further reinforce her belief.

As a part of the library’s birthday celebration, students filled in the blank on sheets reading, “I love the UL because…” From the LEGO study breaks to the abundance of natural light, Mohanty said knowing students appreciate the library has been the best part of the festivities. 

“I think our students respect that we’ve created a study spot that’s for them, and in turn we try and support what I call the whole student,” Mohanty said. “Not just in the classroom, but in their personal and professional interests so we can put support mechanisms in place to help them succeed.”


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