One of the highlights for nearly every scholar who comes to the National Humanities Center is the opportunity to work with the Center’s talented librarians.
Drawing on over 20 million volumes held by the Triangle Research Library Network as well as other libraries and archives in the US and abroad, library staff fulfill, on average, 13,000 materials requests each year from NHC Fellows and summer residents. The Library’s success rate in filling scholars’ requests is consistently between 99.7% and 99.9%.
Further, the Center maintains relationships with special collections, archives, and book buyers around the world, which have allowed our librarians to obtain hundreds of rare materials over the last ten years. For example:
- Chinese books that are not owned by any North American library and would result in imprisonment or even the death penalty for citizens in China
- a copy of a mid-90s CD-ROM about ancient Roman sanctuaries, held only by the National Library of Spain
- concert programs from 1960s Carnegie Hall performances featuring photos of, and a rare hidden signature from, Martin Luther King, Jr.
- nineteenth-century maps of Africa from the British National Archives
- a map of Rome from the late 1700s
“The librarians are like magicians! My requests probably weren’t that exciting, but they found an obscure Milton work on logic for me. They even helped me find some ideas for the cover art for my book. My requests were fulfilled quickly and they always seemed happy to help and answer questions.”
–Krista Thomason (NHC Fellow, 2021–22)
The Center’s librarians also work closely with scholars to answer challenging reference questions. Some recent examples:
- “I need help locating this [item by] Ho Chi Minh. It was written in Vietnamese but published in Paris. It was probably published in 1920 but possibly 1921. Or 1922. He might have used his pseudonym.”
- “I have a citation for an article in a newsletter published in something entitled Western but I can’t find any evidence this newspaper actually existed.”
- “I’m trying to determine how many times this actress was arrested between 1930 and 1940. She was probably in New York.”
- “I need archival scans from the Rockefeller Center but I’m not sure which folders I need because the finding aid is vague and the archivist won’t answer me.”
- “I have a tea pot with a poem on it. I believe that one of the lines of the poem, ‘Success to the Lovers’ refers to a ship that carried enslaved people to North America, but I can’t find evidence of a ship by that name.”
The librarians also help scholars by hosting roundtables and inviting guest experts on topics regarding scholarly communication and publishing. They also hold regular training sessions on electronic research tools that allow scholars to work more efficiently and locate digital materials more effectively.