Atkins believed libraries focal point of learning

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Atkins Library, the third building to be constructed on the UNC Charlotte campus, is named for J. Murrey Atkins, the son of a prominent Gastonia family, successful Charlotte businessman and one of the University’s founding members.

Atkins, born in Russellville, Ky., graduated from Gastonia High School. At Duke University, he served as editor of the yearbook and earned a bachelor’s degree in 1927. He attended Harvard Law School and Columbia University and spent five years in New York with the Irving Trust Co. before returning to Charlotte. In 1935, he joined the city’s leading investment firm R.S. Dickson and Co., where he was president from 1954 until his death.

Atkins was involved with Charlotte College from its inception. He was chair of the college advisory committee for eight years and chair of the Charlotte Community College System when it was authorized in 1958. When UNC Charlotte became a four-year college, he served as chair of the board of trustees.

Sensitive to the social and educational needs of the community, Atkins believed that the Charlotte region needed a public institution of higher learning to stay competitive with other cities in the state. He used his business, financial and political contacts to help Charlotte College become that institution. “Charlotte College was started to meet an emergency and has continued as a necessity,” Atkins was fond of saying.

Charlotte College shared a library facility with Central High School. Mozelle Scherger was hired as the first full-time librarian in 1957, when a daytime instructional program was launched. When the college was formally accredited that fall, the number of volumes in the library exceeded 6,000.

Atkins believed the library should be central on the campus, central in student service and the very focal point of learning. When the library was first moved to the new campus, it was temporarily housed in the W. A. Kennedy Building.

The pioneering leader would not live to see the current library adorned with his name. He died Dec. 2, 1963, and the J. Murrey Atkins Library was dedicated on April 19, 1965. The state legislature appropriated $20.5 million for an expansion in 1995.

Photo inset: Atkins Library and the Kennedy Building are shown in this historical picture from 1965.

Atkins Library Special Collections contributed to this article.