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Monday May 29th

University Libraries endowment supports the Southern Historical Collection

Wilson Library pictured on UNC's campus on Monday, April 4th, 2022. UNC Libraries has received a $2 million endowment for the Southern Historical Collection and Wilson Special Collections.
Buy Photos Wilson Library pictured on UNC's campus on Monday, April 4th, 2022. UNC Libraries has received a $2 million endowment for the Southern Historical Collection and Wilson Special Collections.

University Libraries received a $2 million endowment from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to support Wilson Library’s Special Collections. 

The endowment includes $1.5 million to create the Sarah Graham Kenan Curator position in the Southern Historical Collection — an archival collections and primary documents repository on the American South. 

Wilson Library houses more than 5,000 distinct archival collections and primary documents on topics like communities and families, business and labor, slavery and Civil Rights activism.

North Carolina philanthropist Sarah Graham Kenanmade the first significant contribution to the development of the Southern Historical Collection, according to Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian Elaine L. Westbrooks. This endowment will help to continue her contribution to preserving and sharing the narratives of the American South. 

Westbrooks said in a University Libraries press release that Graham Kenan had supported the Southern Historical Collection before its creation. 

“Just as she looked forward, this endowment from the Kenan Charitable Trust looks ahead to the collection’s next century and beyond,” she said. "Sarah Graham Kenan’s legacy will continue to live on in the collection she helped make possible.”

Chaitra Powell, the curator of the Southern Historical Collection, said she plans to use the funding to provide more resources that will support students’ academic and research goals. 

“We’re trying to get more things that they can use (and) trying to offer them more experiences with the materials,” she said.

She added that the endowment serves as a means of support for University Libraries to maintain existing resources and implement new ones. 

María R. Estorino, associate University librarian for Special Collections and director of Wilson Special Collections Library, said she hopes the endowment will help expand the collection’s community use by digitizing more of its materials. 

“One way in which students might see the impact of the endowment is in these opportunities to engage not just with the original materials as you would traditionally in writing a paper or putting together a website — but in really asking new questions and using new and different tools to find the answers,” Estorino said.

The endowment will also support the University's Southern Futures initiative, a program that provides scholarships for students to conduct research on the American South. 

Madd Heartley, a recipient of a Southern Futures award, said she used her scholarship to research the preservation of Black culture in Johns Island, South Carolina. 

The ability to investigate the topic would not have been possible without this award, Heartley said.

“I was given this fantastic opportunity to essentially spend a whole summer at the library and spend a whole summer doing archivist work which I never would’ve had the resources to do,” she said. 

Heartley believes this grant and the resources provided by the library allows students the opportunity to better understand Southern history and conduct their own research. 

“By providing students and other people the resources and options to support themselves with this grant helps to better contextualize the history of the South, which I think is something that continually needs work,” she said. 

The remaining $500,000 of the endowment will focus on providing fellowships that support research using Wilson Library's special collections, Estorino said. She said The William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust has challenged University Libraries to match their endowment of $500,000 over the next three years.

The endowment comes after University Libraries faced significant budget cuts during the fall semester — a total of $5 million in cuts over the next two fiscal years. Money was later directed back to the libraries during the spring semester. 

However, this endowment is separate to the University Libraries overall budget that is being affected by the cuts and is an ongoing issue, according to an emailed statement from Director of Library Communications Judy Panitch. She said that the new endowment is specifically reserved for archival materials and their support. 

"We are very grateful for the endowment, but the budget reductions are a real and ongoing issue not affected in any way by the endowment, nor did they spur creation of the endowment," she wrote. 

Creating an endowment creates an opportunity to extend these programs forever, Estorino said.

The fellowships will also help to connect students with other resources on campus.

“It’s this kind of dynamic experience where fundamentally we’re funding research but we’re creating this conversation — we’re trying to connect the fellows with other resources on our campus, faculty, the Center for the Study of the American South and UNC press,” she said.

Estorino said she hopes the endowment will allow University Libraries to provide more resources to the campus community for all different areas of research. 

"This kind of endowment would let us do that, would let us try things out, would let us figure out what would work and support more broadly our diverse community of users,” she said.

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of the article failed to elaborate on how the new $2 million endowment and the University Libraries' overall budget cuts are separate from each other. The article has been updated to establish the distinction between the two. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for this error. 

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