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'I hope it keeps its charm:' Davis Library after 40 years


Crowds gather in Davis Library for the building's 40th anniversary on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024.

When Walter Royal Davis Library opened on Feb. 7, 1984, about 100 students lined up in anticipation. The first book checked out was George Orwell’s 1984.

Forty years later, Davis Library hosted a celebration on Tuesday to commemorate its 40th anniversary. The library houses over 3.5 million books, along with humanities, social science and foreign language materials, maps, government information and data collections and eight floors of work and study space.

The library is named after and dedicated to Walter Royal Davis — an oil businessman from Texas and a member of the UNC System Board of Governors and UNC Board of Trustees. Davis contributed to numerous building funds for the University, including Davis Library, which now bears his name to commemorate his donations.

Since its opening, the library has adapted how it serves students and accommodates the University’s changing campus.

María Estorino, the vice provost for University Libraries, said one change was caused by a need for more study spaces of different varieties. Since the library's opening, she said enrollment numbers have grown and Davis Library has had to encompass a changing social and study scene for students. 

“They all come with their laptops now or get information on their phones,” Judy Panitch, the director of library communications, said. “There's much more collaborative work that goes on, so students in particular need spaces to do that, and so as the library, we've made efforts to adapt to those needs.”

While first-year Natalee Ibarra said she enjoys the library's atmosphere, the first floor was not always the conversational and collaborative workspace it is now.

Panitch said that Davis used to be a quiet library.

“It was the place that people would go to sit in solitary space and work on their own, with books and notebooks and notepads," she said. "That has changed, people research differently.”

Ibarra said the library’s variety in terms of conversational and collaborative floors to quiet areas motivates her to get her work done.

“I come here to not get lazy,” she said. “I like how there are eight floors. I like how there are options, you can socialize or be by yourself.”

Estorino said because of the changes in how students study, the library has also faced issues with a lack of outlets. She said this is because when the library first opened in the ‘80s, laptops didn’t exist, so outlets were not needed.

Throughout its history, the library also has adapted as information has moved digital. Panitch said the library has changed to accommodate different student research and study needs. 

From the mid ‘80s to late ‘90s, students referenced items in printed physical books. But as information has increasingly became stored digitally, Davis now stores less physical material than when it first opened.

“Part of it is due to the changing nature of how information gets distributed but also the changing needs of our research community,” she said.

Estorino mentioned another notable change: the removal of a controversial sculpture, “The Student Body.”

The statue was installed in front of Davis Library in 1990. The sculpture consisted of a group of bronze figures that some students felt contained racist and sexist overtones. Following student protests and vandalizations, almost immediately after its installation the University moved the sculpture to a spot behind Hamilton Hall, which is also known as Pauli Murray Hall. Some of the figures were removed without a statement.

One feature of the library that has remained unchanged since it opened is the furniture on the third to eighth floors. Estorino said if students go into the stacks of books, the floor still has the wooden chairs and tables original to the building, which were manufactured in North Carolina.

First-year Gabrielle Stevenson said she likes both the social aspect of Davis and its free and non-traditional setup. 

“In the future, I hope it’s the same,” she said. “I hope it keeps its charm. I hope twenty years from now when I come back to the campus, it’s the same.”

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