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North Carolina Collection curator Bob Anthony to retire after 40-year career

“People say he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the state, I would go further and say that it's in his DNA.”

Bob Anthony, curator of the North Carolina Collection and director of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center is retiring on May 31, 2021. Photo courtesy of Jon Gardiner.

Bob Anthony, curator of the North Carolina Collection and director of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, is set to retire on May 31 after a 40-year career. 

The North Carolina Collection in the Wilson Special Collections Library aims to preserve literary, visual and artifactual materials that represent four centuries of the colony and state of North Carolina.

Lifelong career

Anthony said one goal of the North Carolina Collection is to accumulate historic items related to North Carolina. 

“We collect books, pamphlets, maps, microforms, postcards, photographs and newspapers relating to North Carolina in content or authorship,” he said. 

And the scale of this work is not small. Anthony said the collection holds over 300,000 books and pamphlets, 57,000 maps and 46,000 reels of microfilm. 

“It is a rich and diverse collection that people can use to study North Carolina and learn about North Carolinians,” he said. 

As director of the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, Anthony said the primary goal is to make historic information easily accessible — but his main role is collaborating with his co-workers. 

“I have really talented and bright colleagues,” he said. “My job is to try and keep up with them. They come up with the ideas for projects, and I try to help consult, find resources and brainstorm with them.”

Anthony said his team uses Wilson Library’s resources and equipment to digitize materials from 283 libraries' archives around North Carolina, at no cost to the consumer. 

And the North Carolina Collection is not just for UNC students — Anthony said he wants to emphasize that Wilson Library’s resources are available for anyone to use.

Anthony's legacy 

Lisa Gregory, program coordinator at the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, said Anthony has always been passionate about his work. 

“Bob has been modest about it, but he has been one of the driving forces behind the Center since it began 10 years ago,” she said. “He has always been extremely vocal about loving the work that we do and thinking that it's incredibly critical for the state.”

Anthony said his favorite part of working for the University was twofold: his colleagues and the resources. He said he was always amazed at the talents and skills of the campus community. 

Gregory said one of the things that makes Anthony special is his vast knowledge of North Carolina and its history.

“People say he has an encyclopedic knowledge of the state — I would go further and say that it's in his DNA,” she said. “He knows more about North Carolina than probably anyone else I have ever met or could even possibly imagine exists.” 

Gregory also said that Anthony’s work has elevated UNC’s status in the minds of people who research the state.

“Because of his efforts, UNC-Chapel Hill has this sort of, almost kind of mythic reputation about the breadth of their North Carolina Collection,” she said. “And not just the physical collection, but the knowledge that he has cultivated.”

But Anthony’s legacy goes beyond the UNC community. Elaine Westbrooks, vice provost for University Libraries, said the state of North Carolina will lose an exemplary employee when he retires.

“Few people are more versed in the history, culture and literature of the state than Bob,” she said. “He responds to all inquiries with generosity of spirit and gentle humor.”

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His consideration and kindness are some of the things his colleagues will miss the most about him. Gregory said Anthony would consistently “pop in” on his co-workers to have an in-person conversation.  

“He is someone who places a lot of emphasis on face-to-face talking,” she said. “And I think I'm also going to miss having someone that I can go to with questions about North Carolina history who is so nonjudgmental.”

Anthony plans to stay in the Chapel Hill area after he retires, but he said he will miss the day-to-day contact with his co-workers. 

“I can’t imagine ever leaving Chapel Hill,” he said. “I don’t know where I would be any happier.”