December 5, 2008
CHAPEL HILL For as long as anyone can remember, Christmas trees adorned with lights and ornaments have greeted holiday season visitors to UNC Chapel Hill's two main libraries.
Not this year.
The trees, which have stood in the lobby areas of Wilson and Davis libraries each December, were kept in storage this year at the behest of Sarah Michalak, the associate provost for university libraries.
Michalak's decision followed several years of queries and complaints from library employees and patrons bothered by the Christian display, Michalak said this week.
Michalak said that banishing the Christmas displays was not an easy decision but that she asked around to library colleagues at Duke, N.C. State and elsewhere and found no other one where Christmas trees were displayed.
Aside from the fact that a UNC Chapel Hill library is a public facility, Michalak said, libraries are places where information from all corners of the world and all belief systems is offered without judgment. Displaying one particular religion's symbols is antithetical to that philosophy, she said.
â€?We strive in our collection to have a wide variety of ideas,â€? she said. â€?It doesn't seem right to celebrate one particular set of customs.â€?
Michalak, chief librarian for four years, said at least a dozen library employees have complained over the last few years about the display. She hasn't heard similar criticism from students, though they may have voiced concerns to other library staff.
Public libraries generally shy away from creating displays promoting any single religion, said Catherine Mau, deputy director of the Durham County library system, where poinsettias provided by a library booster group provide holiday cheer.