Rare Book Philanthropy Program

Overview of the Rare Book Collection

J. Murrey Atkins Library has been collecting rare publications for more than forty years. Comprising approximately 12,900 volumes, the collection contains books, broadsides, maps, and other printed material covering a wide variety of subjects and eras. Particular subject strengths include the history of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and North Carolina; American and British literature; African American history; theology and religion; and children’s literature. Though the majority of imprints date from 1800 to the present, the collection contains a substantial number of books from the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, many of which exemplify distinctive early printing and binding techniques.

These books are held in Special Collections and University Archives and every year hundreds of them are made available to students, researchers and community members who visit the Dalton Reading Room on the 10th floor of the library. Many of these books are used multiple times each semester, as they form an important part of the curriculum in a range of subject areas. They are stored and used in monitored conditions because they are rare, as defined by our inability to replace them if they are lost or damaged. In other words, they would either be too costly to replace or they are completely unavailable on the market.

The Use of Rare Books is On the Rise

The use of rare books is increasing, perhaps as a result of the desire to encounter physical objects in a world saturated with digital information. Students in History and related disciplines can learn not only from the information contained in rare books and editions, which may be unavailable elsewhere, but also from the book’s physical features: To what audience was the book directed? How much did it cost to print? Students in Graphic Arts and related fields can learn about historical printing and typesetting techniques. These are just a few examples of how students use rare books.

As a result of the recent increase in the use of rare books in the curriculum, Atkins Library faces two related challenges: 1) Ensuring the books currently in the collection are preserved for future generations; and 2) Building the collection to meet the demands of the University’s curriculum and the community in the future.

Rare Book Conservation

Atkins Library is pleased to offer the opportunity for community members to be involved in preserving our rare books for generations to come by helping us to enlist the services of experienced professionals in rare book conservation. These conservators can repair and stabilize the books, ensuring they can continue to be used. The following is a very general list of the types of treatments required and the cost range estimates:

  • A pamphlet that requires a protective cover to help it withstand repeated use ($300-$400)
  • A book that requires a custom-made box or other enclosure ($300-$500)
  • A book with a binding that has failed, causing damage to the paper ($1,000-$5,000)
  • A very large map that requires cleaning, repair and a new custom box that would allow it to be stored safely and brought out for research easily ($3,000-$4,000)

We are currently conducting an item-by-item assessment of our rare book conservation needs. A few specific examples of books that we have identified as requiring treatment are:

  • Douglass, Frederick and William Lloyd Garrison.Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (Boston: Anti-Slavery Office, 1845) - repair to binding and custom box (est. $2,000)
    • Rare and priceless edition of this seminal primary source in American history, which is highlighted by the Library of Congress as one of the “Books That Shaped America.” Our edition of the book is so rare that we were asked to provide a high-quality digital copy of the frontispiece to the new Museum of African American History and Culture, and this copy is now on permanent display at the museum. This book is used frequently in many classes that study abolitionism, African American history in general, and other topics. The cover has come off; the book requires repair to the binding and a custom box. 
  • Abolitionist-era pamphlets - end papers and binding (est. $300-$450 each)
    • Valuable for the study of African American history and social history in general. Each requires new end papers and a binding to help them withstand repeated use. 
  • Collette Map of North Carolina (1770) - repair, cleaning, and custom box (est. $3,000-$4,000)
    • Very valuable rare map which had long been on display in an inadequate frame, causing some light damage. We would like to have it repaired and a custom box made for it, which would allow us to provide access to it in the Special Collections Reading Room. (Note: we have already completed the conservation work on a similar map, the Mouzon Map of North Carolina, 1775. This is available for viewing and research in the Special Collections reading room).
  • Sketches of Charlotte, 5 editions ranging from 1888 to 1904 - various treatments (starting at est. $1,200)
    • These rare volumes tell the history of Charlotte in pictures and text, and they are heavily used because they include many images of Charlotte buildings that are no longer in existence. They range from very poor to fair condition, but each would require repair to the paper and bindings. 
  • Eliot, T.S. The Wasteland. (Boni and Liveright, 1922) - new custom-made box (est. $300-$400)
    • This is the rare first edition that was donated as our one millionth volume. It is in good condition, but it requires a custom box to protect it. -- FUNDED!

Here are some facts about the Conservation program:

  • Donors may identify a level of support they would like to provide, and Special Collections staff will match them with one or more books requiring conservation treatments for them to review and adopt.
  • Conservation work will be carried out by ECS, a world-renowned conservation lab in Brown’s Summit, NC (Greensboro).
  • Donors who pledge $1,000 in conservation treatments will be treated to a tour of the ECS conservation lab.
  • All donors will have the opportunity to be acknowledged in the library catalog record and in the Annual Reportas having made the conservation work possible.



Rare Book Collection Development

Atkins Library relies on financial and in-kind donations to build our collection of rare books, many of which can be purchased for between $200 and $1500, although some cost thousands of dollars. Facts about the Collection Development program include:

  • A donor may identify an amount he or she wishes to contribute, beginning at $200, and select one of the following collecting areas he or she would like to help build:
    • History of North Carolina
    • Children’s literature
    • African American literature
    • Publications of North Carolina small presses
    • Comic books and graphic novels by local authors or illustrators
    • Rare editions of significant works of American literature


  • Staff in Special Collections & University Archives will identify books that fit within our collecting priorities to match the donor’s preferences. Since the rare book market is dynamic and ever-changing, our ability to identify a book or books that meet particular criteria at a certain price point will depend upon availability.


  • The donor will be acknowledged in the library catalog record and in the Annual Reportas contributing the acquisition of the rare book(s).

For more information on the Rare Book Philanthropy Program,

 contact Todd Marrs at 704-687-5957 or dmarrs@uncc.edu