#WhyILove UNC: Wilson Library is like Narnia – But with Books

The script that orientation leaders follow gets old – there’s a Harry Potter room! I hate studying there because it’s so quiet you can hear a pencil drop! The orientation leaders don’t even take their group inside. The best these students get is standing on the steps of the library, staring at the large columns and dome – the neoclassical traits that make the library stand out from the rest of campus.

Staring at the building is one thing. During my first year, my former roommate and I would walk by the library every day and talk about the day we would go in and explore. The only reason we finally pushed ourselves to go was for the Clue event the library hosts each semester.

We searched for clues all over the building, including the Harry Potter room that was made decades before J.K. Rowling was born. The room is full of light, and the ceiling is just as intricate as the rest of the building. Half of the room is reserved for studying students who don’t want to hear a sound, and the other half is roped off. It’s full of rare books, specifically the Gottschalk collection for all those kidney lovers out there and the Flatow collection for Latin American books from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Outside of the reading room is a seasonal exhibit area – my favorite being the Frankenstein exhibit, which showcased a first edition of Frankenstein, along with medicine books, which Mary Shelley would have used as examples, and books from her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft.

When you go down the stairs to the main part of the building, you follow a marble staircase (and fake marble walls). Down one hallway, there’s a gallery showcasing famous people from North Carolina and a recreation of the Hayes Plantation library, along with seven-eighths of the books from the original. Down the other hallway, is the Special Collections Reading Room, where researchers go to study rare books or family papers.

When I started working at Wilson in February of 2018, I saw all of this and didn’t think it could get better, until I discovered the 10 floors of stacks, which are full of rare books, journals and weird items like a cat skeleton in a glass case and a Dolly Parton cutout.

We have tablets from Mesopotamia and Pompeii, manuscripts from the fifteenth century, first editions of almost anything you can think of, palm-leaf manuscripts, fore-edge paintings, letters from Dean Smith, the Gimghoul papers and more. With over seven million items, it’s impossible to see it all, even as a student worker.

I’ve worked at Wilson for over a year, and I can honestly say it is one of the calmest, most inviting environments on campus. We don’t just cater to academic scholars and graduate students. Students are encouraged to research items in the reading room for class, or just take some time to look at a few first editions.

Not everyone may be as excited as I am about being surrounded by rare books, but for those who are, Wilson is your place.