WILSON’S QUIET TOUCH
The modern library
from top left, an
image on a computer
screen in the N.C.
Room shows how the
carrels used to look;
reader is glassed-in
and monitored with
two cameras; conservationists use an
antique press and
the newest techniques to preserve
old paper; book digitization goes on at
the rate of 300
pages an hour; a
room has been converted to a studio for
digitizing maps and
other large documents; the film
library is a reminder
work is far from
done; among the
vaulted treasures is
this letter from
Richard Nixon to
Sen. Sam Ervin ’ 17 —
the president will not
give up the tapes;
recordings, from wax
cylinders to 8-tracks,
are converted to digital audio.
They’re the first books the University had,
and they’ve traveled as a set to every
library since they were in the old Di and
Phi halls in the early 1800s.
The slight tragedy of Wilson is the
misconception that it’s too good. Rich
Szary, who heads the special collections,
says it makes him crazy when tour hosts
breeze past the front door while explaining that it’s strictly for the serious scholars. “I have alumni saying, ‘I never thought
I was allowed to use that,’” he said.
There’s rarely anyone to greet and
direct in the vacant entrance lobby, and
that, Szary said, has to change.
As the library races to digitize — the
current rate is 300 pages an hour, and it
could keep many times its current staff
busy — more and more is accessible in
one’s own space, on one’s own schedule.