Published Sunday, December 16, 2012
By W. WINSTON SKINNER
Chantel Dunham, director of development for the University of Georgia Libraries, recently visited Coweta County.
Dunham spoke at a meeting of the Newnan Rotary Club. Afterward, she traveled to Moreland where she toured the Erskine Caldwell Birthplace and Museum.
Gerald Kemp, Rotary president, told the club members Dunham – who is originally from LaFayette, La. – has been successful at “igniting some enthusiasm for the hidden treasures” in the university libraries’ wide-ranging collections.
“She has been involved with the planning and fundraising for the $45 million special collections library,” Kemp said. That facility, dedicated earlier this year on the Athens campus, includes the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame. Caldwell, author of “Tobacco Road” and “God’s Little Acre,” is an inaugural member of the Hall of Fame.
Dunham’s work endowed the Hall of Fame program. She also is director of development for the University of Georgia Press and for the university’s acclaimed journal, The Georgia Review.
“As a public institution, we are open and available to the world,” Dunham said. “We have the largest library in the state. We have the largest collection of Georgia history material anywhere.”
The university’s library ranks 14th in the country in sound recordings and 11th in manuscripts, eighth in maps and second in video and film.
“We’ve got nearly five million books,” Dunham said.
She said the Ilah Dunlap Little Library, which was the main library for decades, is becoming a graduate library.
Dunham also talked about the Miller Learning Center which “can accommodate 5,000 students at one time.” Composed half of classrooms and half library, it is becoming “the most active place on campus by far,” she said.
The new Russell Library cost $45 million. Two thirds of the cost was paid by the state.
“We did raise a third privately,” “What we have is truly magnificent – quite lovely,” Dunham said.
“We were really able to build with the future in mind,” Dunham explained. The new facility has a massive vault that can hold years of holdings to come.
“Everything is organized together by size so you get the greatest capacity,” Dunham said. The vault is kept at 50 degrees Fahrenheit and at 30 percent humidity, which “doubles the lifespan of all paper,” she said.
The university library has gallery space that is rare in research libraries. “We’ve got eight galleries in just one of our special collections libraries,” Dunham said.
“We still have room to grow,” she said.
Dunham spent much of talk to the Rotarians talking about the Hargrett Rare Book Manuscript Collection, which began with an endowment. “Colonial Georgia is a real strength that we have,” she said.
Dunham noted that receipts on Babylonian clay tablets are the oldest items in that collection. “But our focus is really Georgia,” she said.
A colonial diary and an early hand drawn map of Savannah are in the collection. The core of the Hargrett Library came from Wormsloe, a plantation near Savannah, and was acquired by UGA in the 1930s.
A copy of the Confederate Constitution is in the collection, along with “rare maps, rare books” and what Dunham called “an amazing collection of treasures.”
There is an unpublished volume by naturalist John Abbott detailing what he found and where during a visit to Georgia two centuries ago.
The UGA Libraries hold “the largest collection of rare maps of Georgia that is available anywhere,” she said, and it is available on line.
There is a Civil War collection. Also included are items relating to Ben Epps, a pioneer Athens aviator, and to actor Charles Coburn, who was born in Macon and grew up in Savannah.
There is a handwritten letter from Helen Keller and a huge trove of Margaret Mitchell’s letters to fans. “She did carbon copies so we have a copy of ever letter she wrote to everyone else,” Dunham said.
Dunham also talked about the Russell Library collection that began with U.S. Sen. Richard B. Russell’s papers. The political library has expanded. “We’ve been doing lots of oral histories,” she said, including about 150 that can be accessed online.
The Walter J. Brown Media Archive is the third largest media archive in world – because of the university’s sponsorship of the Peabody Awards. “People who have won them are starting to give us their collections,” Dunham said, and there is a gallery where visitors can listen to Peabody-winning recordings.
Dunham attended Rotary with Sharon Denney, a retired banker and UGA graduate who lives near Moreland. He also accompanied her to the Caldwell museum where Dunham talked with Carol Chancey of the Moreland Cultural Arts Alliance about possible future collaboration between the museum and the university library.