Two weeks ago, María Estorino began her journey as the new vice provost for University Libraries and University librarian. Staff Writer Emi Maerz sat down to talk with her about the future of University Libraries.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
The Daily Tar Heel: You have been serving as the interim University librarian since May 2022. What are you most proud of since you began in this role and what are you most excited about now that you have been named permanently?
María Estorino: Taking on the interim role, I really had two things in mind. One of them was maintaining stability and the other was increasing momentum. We really have so many wonderful things that are in development and are well-established and we wanted to make sure that none of that slowed down and that everything had an opportunity to continue to thrive and to succeed. I think the most significant change for me in taking on the permanent role is that our attention now can turn toward the future. How does this momentum and this stability position us to imagine what the future is of the Carolina libraries?
DTH: What are a few things you want students to know about you?
ME: My career in libraries has largely been in archives and special collections. Here at UNC, I’ve had the immense privilege of working with the special collections housed in Wilson Library. That experience really says a lot about what excites me about being here at UNC — and largely the people who make up this library. We have an incredible team of librarians and staff who believe in our core mission: access to the information we need, not just as students and scholars, but as people and citizens of this world.
DTH: What change would you like to see in the University Libraries?
ME: There are a number of areas in which we are looking to grow, especially when you think of the new School of Data Science and Society. How does the library interface with that? What staff and services do we need to support that?
I also think a lot about our spaces. Our libraries are very well-used and I think our community — whether it’s our students or the larger community — (is) looking for ways to come together. We are trying to be very responsive to all the different ways in which people need and use our spaces. Keep an eye out for how the library spaces might evolve in the coming years.
DTH: How do you plan to further goals of inclusivity and accessibility in the University Libraries in your new position?
ME: That touches on everything we do. When we are building collections, subscribing to resources or acquiring things for the special collections, how do we think about what is represented in those collections and what is not? We are paying even more special attention to that.
We are also thinking about how accessible our spaces are. How navigable are they? How welcoming are they?
In our events and our programs, we’ve been investing a lot of energy into different ways in which we engage with students. We are investing in not just the curricular ways in which we support students, but also the social and emotional ways. The idea of inclusion and well-being plays a big part in that. There’s a lot of opportunities in all aspects of our work to center and prioritize belonging—a sense that you belong in these libraries and they belong to you.
DTH: In your time at UNC, you have developed fellowships for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty to access special collections at the University. How do you plan to expand opportunities for students to access all of UNC’s special collections?
ME: There is still more to be done. I would love to see it grow to a place where we can offer an even wider variety of research opportunities. Most of our opportunities right now are geared toward graduate students and scholars. I would love to see more opportunities for undergraduates.
We also employ a lot of students, both graduates and undergraduates. They are not just jobs, but a chance for career development and access to employment opportunities that prepare students for whatever comes next beyond their four undergraduate years.
I think there’s a lot of room for us to think about ways in which students have access to research opportunities, job opportunities and experiential opportunities across the libraries, not just the special collections. Think of spaces like the Kenan Science Library Makerspace. What unique opportunities can we provide for students to not only do their own work, but to learn to create programming or operate equipment? There are a lot of interesting opportunities that we already offer and that we can grow.
DTH: Could you name an initiative or moment in your career that you are most proud of?
ME: The fellowships. I am very proud of the work that we’ve done. It’s not just because we are bringing people to our libraries to use our collections and produce new knowledge and new understandings of our past, it is because we are creating community. We’re bringing scholars here and connecting them with experts in the library, scholars on campus and the larger community. We are also trying to support them with added-value activities — teaching them how to manage research data or how to publish with UNC Press. The fellowship program is a wonderful illustration of the special collections’ relevance in the digital age.
Special collections have been historically conceived as spaces for advanced scholars, but we are doing so much work with undergraduate classes and students. I feel really rewarded that it’s been during my career that so much has changed in that sphere. I am really proud of whatever small part I have been able to play in increasing resources.
DTH: What legacy would you like to leave on the University’s Libraries?
ME: I think about two things. One of those is belonging. The libraries could play an even more central role in how we create a sense of belonging on our campus. I want everyone who is touched by UNC’s libraries to think that the libraries helped them feel like they belonged.
The other thing is collaboration. If we look back and say that we grew in our community focus and community-engaged work, we strengthened our collaborations and created a new future for the libraries because of those things, then I will be satisfied.
DTH: When you’re reading for fun, what genre do you pick up?
ME: I prefer fiction. I tend to like historical fiction. I love literature about places where cultures and languages intersect. I love reading authors of color. I, myself, am Cuban-American and I love reading works by Latinx authors. But if I really need something to get my mind off of things, I read Cold War spy novels.
DTH: What is your favorite book?
ME: That's like asking a parent who their favorite child is. It's really hard for me to pick a favorite book, but I really do love reading and I still try to make time for pleasure reading — it's my form of self-care. The book I'm reading right now is called "The Eighth Life."
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