In 1946, the Charlotte Center of The University of North Carolina was founded. Initially offering classes in the evenings to returning war veterans, its library shared its facilities, book collection, and staff with Central High School, its host institution. The site of Central High School is now the location of Central Piedmont Community College.
By the time Charlotte College was accredited as a two-year junior college by the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in December 1957, it had begun a daytime program and hired its first full-time librarian Mozelle S. Scherger, though it still shared its facilities with Central High School. Plans for expansion of the junior college into a four-year college required that the library work to expand its collections and staffing to meet the minimum basic requirements for an academic library. Plans were made to find a new location for the College that would accommodate its growing needs.
While the initial collection was just a handful of books, the Charlotte College library kept a record of its purchases and acquisitions through what is known as an Accession Book. As titles were purchased and received by library staff, each was recorded in this book in the order it was received. Thanks to those records, we know that the first volume acquired by the Library was Preface to Philosophy: Book of Readings, by Ross Earle Hoople, Raymond Frank Piper, and William Pearson Tolley. New York: Macmillan, 1946.
When the University, then known as Charlotte College, moved to this campus in 1961, the Library was housed in the W.J. Kennedy Building with a collection of approximately 17,000 volumes. Two years later, Charlotte College became a four-year, state-supported institution, and the midpoint of the campus had moved westward. A new centrally located building solely dedicated to housing the Library was opened, and just a year later in 1964, James D. Ramer was appointed Head Librarian.
In April 1964, the Charlotte College Board of Trustees made the decision to name the Library in honor of J. Murrey Atkins, the board's first chairman, who had died the previous year. In April 1965, the building was officially named after Atkins, a visionary who, along with founder Bonnie Cone, anticipated the rising public demand for an institution of higher learning in this metropolitan area. Although Atkins' dream for Charlotte College would not be fulfilled until after his death, the Library that bears his name was host to the event that finalized that coveted accomplishment of achieving University status.
In July 1965, state and local officials, including Governor Dan Moore and Charlotte College trustees, met in the Atkins Library to sign papers conveying Charlotte College to the University of North Carolina. After those signings, Governor Moore walked out of the Library Building and rang the Old Bell in celebration.
Enrollment at UNC Charlotte accelerated, and in 1967, the campus petitioned for state support to expand Atkins Library. By 1971, that support yielded an expansion of the Atkins Building and a 10-story tower named for Harry Lee Dalton, a Charlotte business leader, University patron, and book collector, whose gifts had enriched Atkins Library's holdings and helped establish Special Collections. However, before that tower was completed, the library reached a major collections milestone.
In 1969, the Atkins Library acquired its 100,000th volume. Donated by Mrs. Mary Myers Dwelle, the Atkins Library's 100,000th volume was The Historie of the World : in Five Bookes by Sir Walter Raleigh, printed in 1628. The celebration was held in the Atkins Library and was attended by such dignitaries such as Ms. Bonnie Cone, Harry Golden, and Dean Colvard.
Meanwhile, construction on the Dalton Tower had begun and the space it would provide was sorely needed. When Charlotte College became part of the UNC system, the library had nearly reached its capacity and the Dalton Tower increased collections space significantly. When those new facilities were completed in 1971, Atkins Library's holdings amounted to a little over 100,000 volumes and UNC Charlotte's enrollment totaled fewer than 5,000 students.
Over the next 22 years, Atkins Library's collection grew to more than a half-million volumes and the student population swelled to 15,000. The Library reached its next collections milestone in 1991 with the acquisition of its 500,000th volume, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. The donation, made by Mary and Harry L. Dalton was a rare first American Edition of the work and marked how far the Atkins Library had come in a short period of time. In the 30 years from when the Library was first housed on campus, its collection had grown tenfold and had a robust, dedicated facility for providing library services
In 2007, Atkins Library added its one-millionth volume: a 1922 first edition, first pressing, copy of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, donated by Dr. Julian and Elsie Mason from their personal collection. The Waste Land, a long, complex poem, is a seminal work of modern literature by one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.
Atkins Library's copy is numbered 22 of 1000, marking it as a first edition, first pressing. Another distinguishing feature marking it as such is the letter 'a' in the word "mountain" on page 41, which was lighter or completely missing on the first pressing of this book.
In November 2016, Atkins Library celebrated the acquisition of its two-millionth volume, a rare sixth edition of Olaudah Equiano's Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, published in 1793. It is estimated that there are fewer than twenty of any pre-1800 editions held in libraries around the world. Again, Dr. Julian and Elsie Mason generously donated the book from their personal collection.
Equiano's narrative, a masterpiece of the slave narrative genre, is described by The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as "the foundation stone of the subsequent genre of black writing ... the classic statement of African remembrance in the years of Atlantic slavery." The African American National Biography endorses this view by calling it "the only substantial description of the Middle Passage written from a slave's point of view."
As Dr. Akin Ogundiran, of UNC Charlotte's Department of Africana Studies, noted in his remarks at the celebration marking the acquisition of the volume: "Equiano posed the following potent questions in his autobiography: Am I not a Man and a Brother? Am I not a Person? Does the African person, as a God-created being, not deserve natural and equal rights? His answers to these questions challenged and confounded the most sophisticated Enlightenment thinkers of his time."