A Journey for Knowledge

May 27, 2020

University Libraries leaders rolled last fall with the Tar Heel Bus Tour

Illustration of a Tar Heel Bus Tour bus and the Tar Heel Bus Tour logo

Initially launched in 1997 and reactivated last year, the Tar Heel Bus Tour takes Carolina faculty members and senior administrators on a journey to learn about North Carolina.

Last October, Elaine L. Westbrooks, vice provost for University Libraries and University librarian, and María R. Estorino, associate University librarian for special collections and director of the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, were among the 90 campus leaders who participated in the three-day trip. While on the road, they learned about issues of concern to North Carolinians and met Tar Heels working to bring about change.

Elaine Westbrooks toured the western route, which visited: Kannapolis, Charlotte, Cherokee, Eden, and Asheville.

Illustration of Elaine Westbrooks

“This trip was transformational. I was able to see the University’s impact on the communities that we visited, as well as meet many faculty members. Every time we re-boarded the bus, I sat next to somebody new and used the opportunity to advocate for the University Libraries.

“The most important takeaway was that we need to continue to get out of the Triangle and into communities to help people understand the power of libraries and how we can be a force for change. Whether it was talking to the nutrition department in Asheville about how they do research and then share and preserve that data or meeting with the principal chief of the Cherokee about preserving their culture and history, I always asked, ‘What value can we add and what can we learn?’

“I felt like this was a call to action. As a research library, we are a service organization whose primary focus is the University’s students, researchers and staff. At the same time, we have made a commitment to the preservation of the history and complex culture of this state. We need to be sure that North Carolinians know about the University Libraries and how we can help them accomplish their goals.”

María Estorino took the southeastern route, which visited: Siler City, Robeson County, Wilmington, Fort Bragg, Fayetteville, and Green Swamp Preserve.

Illustration of Maria Estorino

“Seeing the places where our students come from was really transformative. In some places, it was inspiring and in other places, it was more complex because of the challenges those communities face. Being able to understand the great diversity of North Carolina allows us to better serve students.

“Something that really lingered with me from the tour is that at Carolina, our job is not to help people become Tar Heels. It is to let students from those communities redefine what it means to be a Tar Heel and to create a shared definition of what it means to be a North Carolinian today.

“As part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ participation in the Coasts, Climates, the Humanities, and the Environment Consortium, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, faculty and students are collaborating on Voices of Resilience and Recovery in Robeson County. It’s a project to amplify stories from residents who have experienced recent hurricane flooding. The Library was invited to be part of the conversation on how to incorporate historical memory into that project.

“Having been in Robeson County on the bus tour and heard from residents who survived two hurricanes, I was much better able to be part of that conversation and imagine how the University Libraries could play a role. As a result, Wilson Library will support this new project by hosting a research fellow who will help integrate special collections materials into the project’s community conversations and develop a guide to researching environmental history in the Wilson Special Collections Library. That’s just one small example of how this trip impacted our work.”


Story by Michele Lynn, Illustrations by Nicole Basile