Robin Brabham oral history interview 4, 2019 March 22
Robin Brabham, founding head of Special Collections and University Archives at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, discusses the development of the rare book collection at Atkins Library, focusing on the significant involvement of particular UNC Charlotte Professors, generous benefactors, and the development of the department over time. [All times are approximate]. [00:00 -13:00] Mr. Brabham describes meeting UNC Charlotte professor of English Julian Mason who joined the university in the mid 1960s and became an important and ambitious advisor in regard to the rare book collection. He talks about how resources were sparse, but that benefactor Harry Dalton donated $25,000 for rare book acquisitions in 1971 when the Dalton library tower opened. He talks about the creation and composition of a rare book advisory committee composed of faculty from various disciplines, and also about particular professors who assisted with advising on children's literature and other collecting areas. Mr. Brabham mentions in particular Anita Moss, Sarah Smedman, Ann Newman, and Sandy Govan, all English Department faculty members. [13:00-27:00] Describes how the rare book committee operated, the range of value of rare books, and the significance of Mr. Dalton's donations from his own rare book collection, including a first edition of Moby Dick, which was donated as the 500,000th volume by Mrs. Dalton upon Mr. Dalton's death. Mr. Brabham talks in detail about the increasing donations from Julian Mason and Dr. Mason's particular interest in African American literature, including Phyllis Wheatley. [27:00-36:00] Describes the rare book collecting policy, which built on the existing strengths of collections. These included first editions of Eighteenth and Nineteenth century American Literature, following Dr. Mason's interests; a collection of Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and early Nineteenth century English drama and literature, which was originally owned by Princess Augusta Sophia, daughter of George III and Queen Charlotte, and was purchased to honor Mr. Dalton by the American Credit Company; a collection of architectural books to support the Architecture Department; urban history books; and botany publications, including Humboldt's works about South America. He describes how these collecting emphases changed over time and how they continue to change. Discusses the financial challenges of purchasing rare books with no specific budget. [36:00-41:00] Discusses Dr. Mason's donations, including The Interesting Narrative of The Life of Olaudah Equiano, donated as the two millionth volume, T.S. Elliott's The Wasteland, donated as the millionth book, and a first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird among others. [41:00-52:00] Discusses the financial donations of Margaret Holt, whose husband served as the President of Cannon Mills. Addresses the need for preservation funds for repair, binding, and archival containers. Discusses changes in the location of Special Collections within the library over time, and environmental controls that were put in place. [52:00-58:00] Describes how he was the only employee with Special Collections from 1973 to 1976 when he hired his first employee. Talks about how University Archives became part of Special Collections unintentionally as the administration approached Special Collections about university history. [58:00-1:22:00] Describes the additions that were made to the Atkins library over time and changes in the usage of spaces over time. Describes the design and creation of the Dalton Reading Room in 1983. Discusses the elevators in the tower, the issue of ceiling leaks in the Reading Room, the usage of the area behind the Reading Room as a viewing gallery, and the carpentry in the Reading Room which was accomplished by campus carpenters. [1:22:00-1:47:18] Talks about the Sumarian clay tablets donated by Julian Mason. Discusses the Julian and Elsie Mason Fund and issues with restrictions on how funding is utilized. Discusses the creation of the children's literature collection, and the artist books collection. Talks about his favorite books.