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'A jewel on this campus': Wilson Library to close until 2027 pending renovations

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Wilson Library, highlighted in Queerolina's online oral history, stands tall on Sept. 12, 2022.

In anticipation of Wilson Library’s centennial in 2029, improvements to the building’s infrastructure will result in temporary restrictions to the library and most library-housed resources until 2027.

María Estorino, Vice Provost for University Libraries and a University Librarian, said the three official priorities for the Wilson Library Improvement Project are extending sprinkler coverage, creating emergency exit stairs and upgrading the fire alarm system per current safety standards. 

"These three things that seem like just three things are the key to unlocking the future of Wilson Library," she said. "Once we get these projects done, then a whole new possibility of what Wilson Library can be in its next century becomes possible."

In a Faculty Council meeting on Oct. 6, Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz first announced the plans for "major renovations" to the library. The University sent a campus-wide email statement last Tuesday that said Wilson Library will remain open for "study, meetings and special events at least until the early spring semester of 2025."

Most special collections materials present in the library will be in secure storage and unavailable for use beginning August 2024. According to the email statement, the Wilson Project, which has a budget of $31.1 million, is funded by a "generous donation" from the N.C. General Assembly. 

Located at the heart of the University, Wilson Library is home to several historical collections of original materials. Its numerous resources are utilized for theses, courses or research projects by students and faculty alike.

As a part of HNRS 390-002: Slavery and the University, students meet at the library to understand and transcribe the history of enslaved labor at the University using the library’s archives. Zoë Wilcox, a history and political science major who is currently taking HNRS 390, said she believes that it is vital that the materials remain accessible during library closure.

"I think that it's extremely important to have access to the archives," she said. "That's the history of our University. That's the history of our state."

Seth Kotch, director of the UNC Southern Oral History Program, said many of the library’s archives have been digitized over the years and are available online. The SOHP's research has been housed by Wilson Library since its conception in the early 1970s. 

Although analog audio recordings, paper transcripts and supplementary files can only be accessed in-person, Kotch said that efforts are being made in conjunction with the library to find new ways to ensure access to these materials.

"Anytime you lose access to historic material, it is a concern," he said. "It might slow down someone who is trying to write a dissertation or a book or slow down a student who's doing research for a class."

Estorino said that apart from the upgrades carried out in the renovation, upgrades in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act are also being designed to be implemented in the building process and that "[the University] will determine what will be possible from there."

Due to the impact that the renovation project has on library operations, 60 full-time employees and 50 student employees working at the Wilson Special Collections and Music Library will have to be relocated. 

"It's not just the stuff that has to be moved," Estorino said. "We are also very carefully planning for the people that really bring the collections and the building alive." 

While the Wilson Project is in its initial stages, a website has been created that will be updated with specific dates and project information as it becomes available.

"I think that Wilson Library is a jewel on this campus, and I think that we should be devoting as much resources as possible to maintain this position as one of the most important and meaningful places — not just on campus — but in the study of the American South around the world," Kotch said.

@KeerthanaGotur

@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com

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