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Thursday August 11th

Almost half of UNC Libraries staff signed statement against Silent Sam being placed in any branch

Students studying between classes on the steps of Wilson Library on Monday Oct. 22, 2018.
Buy Photos Students studying between classes on the steps of Wilson Library on Monday Oct. 22, 2018.

Since the University Libraries' staff released a statement on Oct. 5 opposing the relocation of Silent Sam to any campus library, nearly half of the libraries' employees have signed it. 

Library employees formed a small network after realizing there was a consensus among those that felt opposed to the monument's placement in a library, said humanities research and digital instruction librarian Sarah Morris.

Currently, 279 people work across Davis, Wilson, the Undergraduate, and Health Sciences libraries, as well as the five branches of Sloane Art, Music, Information and Library Science, Kenan Science and Stone Center libraries, said Judith Panitch, director of library communications in an email. 

At least 123 staffers had signed the petition as private citizens, not as University representatives, as of Sunday evening. 

“Just looking down the names, it is representative of a wide variety of kinds of departments,” said Sarah Carrier, North Carolina research and instruction librarian. “That’s just to emphasize the diversity of the people who have signed on to this.”

Vice Provost of University Libraries and University Librarian Elaine Westbrooks organized various staff meetings to discuss the possibility of the statue moving to Wilson Library, Carrier said. Following the meetings, some staff members decided it would be effective to draft a statement as private citizens.

Nathan Kelber, digital scholarship specialist, said the drafting process was a truly collaborative experience in which an entire group of staffers voluntarily worked on the statement and its revision in their free time.

The group felt motivated to highlight the perspective of library employees since the statue could possibly be placed in their workplace, directly impacting them and their mission as an educational institution, Carrier said. 

“(We) wanted to clarify any misunderstandings or misconceptions and to reveal and make obvious what we do as librarians and also what we do, specifically, at Wilson Special Collections Library,” Carrier said.

Carrier said they, as librarians, are trained experts in deciding what collections to include or reject in the hopes of creating an ideal research environment. 

“I think it matters to us to have the ability and nimbleness to make decisions that we feel support student success,” Morris said. “Placement of the statue would represent a misunderstanding of what libraries do and what we are trying to do."

Carrier said Wilson Library — despite being a special collections library — is not a museum. 

“We are a library," Carrier said. "Now, we are a special collections library, so that means that we do have artifacts. Artifacts are a part of our collections, but we also have photographs, manuscripts and printed books, and so it’s really diverse." 

In the statement, staff members said the history of Silent Sam can be maintained in the University's libraries without physically keeping the monument within the libraries’ walls. 

“We actively collect and preserve UNC history,” Carrier said. “I teach UNC history on a regular basis. The way that we do instruction is through collaboration with faculty; they bring their classes to us. So, every semester I am teaching UNC history. You can imagine that Silent Sam, and the history of the statue and of race on campus, is something we are teaching every day, and the reason why we can do that is because we have these documents and materials.” 

Kelber stressed the significance of promoting safety and inclusivity across the libraries with hopes of providing all students and patrons the opportunity to fully utilize all available books and research opportunities. 

In the statement, staff members said libraries lack necessary infrastructure needed to preserve the monument. Additionally, Carrier said Silent Sam could also impose unwanted danger, violence or disruption upon the libraries, its collections and patrons. 

“We also don’t want to be the place where Silent Sam is because then it would overshadow our main mission — which is to teach the people of North Carolina and to preserve the history of the South — because that’s what we do,” Carrier said. 

Paper slips with a Google Form URL circulated among all library staff members before the statement's official release, except for the Kathrine R. Everett Law Library and the School of Government's Knapp Library staff. Upon reading the statement, employees could add their signature if they agreed with the stance taken.  

“If we have that statue in our space, it would, frankly, undo all of the work we have been trying to accomplish,” said Carrier. “It would completely unravel everything that we have done to create a space for scholarship and learning.”

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