UNC Chapel Hill Library Needs a Fix and Can't Afford It

With North Carolina mired in economic crisis, UNC-Chapel Hill's Wilson Library, home to some of the state's oldest records and rarest books, is stuck in state-mandated paralysis.

A year ago, the state fire marshal's office came close to shutting the 80-year-old building down after finding a slew of fire-code violations. Regulators eventually backed off, instead imposing significant restrictions on how the university can use more than half of the building. One key concern: There aren't enough exits.

Until a sprinkler system is installed and two new exterior stairwells are added, at least 60 percent of the 300,000-square-foot library's usable space is essentially off limits for any use other than storage.
Improvements are estimated to cost $12 million. And there's the problem. The state is slashing funding to universities, and the project isn't at the top of the campus construction priority list.

"It's looking pretty bleak," said Sarah Michalak, the university librarian. "They just feel Wilson is one of the most unsafe buildings on campus. And we don't have the money."

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A sad affair

The Wilson Library was the graduate library when I went to UNC in the late 1960s. Among other fond memories, it was noted for having some really intellectual graffiti in the men's rooms, such as Latin pornographic sayings, medical illustrations grossly mis-applied, and my all-time favorite mathematical/Engineering statement: in small letters at the inside bottom of the stall door, so small you had to lean forward to read, it said "Congratulations! You are now crapping at a 45 degree angle!"

R. Lee Hadden (These are my own opinions!)

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