Repository: William Madison Randall Library


Repository Visit – part one

I am a recent North Carolinian. Just shy of two years ago I relocated to Wilmington, a historic port city.  I am still learning to navigate myself to the grocery store, let alone the library. There are numerous fine repositories and libraries, both local and state-wide for me to explore. This is the first in a series that will describe my visits to several repositories in North Carolina.

The William Madison Randall Library, back entrance.

Special Collections Library, William Madison Randall Library, University of North Carolina Wilmington,

Recently I visited the William Madison Randall Library at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Known as the Randall Library or plain Randall, the building is a classic two story brick. Expanded to double the size in 1986, it was originally built in 1969.

My destination was the Special Collections library. This repository houses rare books, manuscripts, and newspapers (on microfilm). The material has special historical significance to the Lower Cape Fear Region.  As part of the collection, the Southeast North Carolina Collection (SENC) is comprised of books, monographs, maps (mostly historical copies), and works by faculty members.

The manuscript collection comprises over 300 separate collections.  The first 100 are typically one or two documents per collection. Unfortunately, corresponding acquisition history is minimal in these earliest collections.  The collection range includes letters, family papers, business papers, ephemeral collections, and photographs. Further more, Special Collections include a donation called the History of Science Collection from the estate of Dr. Ralph W. Brauer. Plus there is a similar one called the History of Medicine Collection.  Wilmington known as the Hollywood of the east, is home to Screen Gems Studios. Therefore, there is a collection of film scripts.

Parking for visitors is in lot M on the West Campus. Located at the center of North Campus, the library it is adjacent to the Technology Center. This requires a walk through campus past the Fisher University Union and the Fisher Student Center.  On this winter day it was a treat to stroll through the stately buildings and tall pine trees.

Special Collections is upstairs to the rear of the building.  You must ring a bell to gain entry to the locked reading room. Prior appointments are required. However, allowances were witnessed for the odd student in need of a quick consultation of a restricted book.


The Special Collections reading room is well lit. Pleasantly furnished it is about the size of a half-court gymnasium. Four small lockers are found in a wood credenza in the vestibule.  Here you place your bag or backpack.  You may take your laptop, camera, phone, papers (loose or bound), and pencil with you, but no bags of any size, or heavy outerwear.

I had emailed Jerry Parnell, Coordinator, and Rebecca Baugnon, Specialist, of the Special Collections library to make an appointment.  Additionally, I notified them of the manuscripts I planned to access. The online catalog had enabled me to plan my research. Upon arrival it was Rebecca who answered my buzz of the bell. She kindly showed me how to stow my bag, and make my way from the antechamber to a large conference table within the main floor of the reading room.

“Can’t Put It Down” by Walter Palmer.

The boxes that house the collections are brought to you by the librarians one at a time. Rebecca had kindly prepared for my arrival based on our correspondence. There on the table was a gray archival document box.

I settled down at the table with my laptop, phone (on silent), my little bound notebook, and my pencil.   Display cases and bookshelves line the three outer walls. Three large conference tables with chairs surrounding command the middle of the room.  There are no windows, and only two exits from the room.  The front of the room leads back to the antechamber from whence I came. Behind me was a small discreet hallway leading to the archives of the Special Collections, and the librarian’s offices.  Rebecca retired to hers with instructions just to call down the hall, and she would return.

Comparing the label on the document box with my research plan, I slid the box across the table until it sat directly in front of me.  The room was empty. There was no sound except for the ticking of the large wall clock. With such a conducive environment to work in the hours of researching passed pleasantly.  I chose to make a subsequent appointment to explore a number of resources in the SENC. This second visit was just as rewarding.  Once again, Rebecca did some initial pulling for me. Jerry went out of his way to not only greet me, but show interest in my research.

The Randall Library Special Collections library is a very pleasant repository to perform research when exploring the history of the Lower Cape Fear.

Contact Information

William Madison Randall Library

University of North Carolina Wilmington

601 South College Road

Wilmington, NC 28403

  • Jerry Parnell, Coordinator Library Special Collections
    • (910) 962-3760
  • Rebecca Baugnon, Library Specialist, Special Collections
    • (910) 962-3276

Open M-R 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Friday 9:00 – 12:00 pm. Appointment required.

University of North Carolina Wilmington campus

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