Charles B. Lowry (MSLS ’74) and Marcia Duncan Lowry: Life-changing gifts from Carolina inspire historic commitment to SILS

October 30, 2016

Ask Charles B. Lowry to tell you about his favorite UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS) faculty members, and you will probably be in for a long and pleasant chat as he lists nearly every professor he had while completing his MSLS at Carolina. Fred Roper and Dean Edward Holley team taught the management class, and Jerry Orne invited renowned guest speakers who gave students a deep understanding of how publishing worked. Doralyn Hickey’s cataloging class provided a glimpse of the future through its examination of the impending effects of automation, and Martin Dillon’s automation class that included PL1 programming helped Charles understand how computing capabilities would become part of the world of librarianship. Among all these fine educators, Dean Holley made the most significant impact.

Marcia Duncan Lowry and Charles B. Lowry.
Photo by Jon Gardiner, UNC Chapel Hill

“Ed Holley, for me, became a true friend and mentor for as long as he lived,” Charles said. “Everyone always says he was such a wonderful guy, but he also had a keen intellect and was an enormously effective leader. He understood the role of leadership and management, and to a very great extent I’ve attempted to live by his example.”

Ask Marcia Duncan Lowry to describe how she forged ties to UNC, and her face will light up as she recalls two of the happiest days of her life. First, the day she received a phone call telling her that she had landed her dream job as a humanities reference librarian specializing in art and architecture at UNC Charlotte’s Atkins Library. It was the perfect fit for the interests she had developed while earning her MSLS from Florida State University (FSU), which had allowed her to spend six months in Florence, Italy, studying art. The second was the day she received the letter that she had been accepted to UNC Chapel Hill’s master’s program in art history.

“My experience in the art history department was wonderful,” she said. “It fulfilled everything I was looking for. I learned how to truly do scholarly research. I learned about critical thinking and analysis and how to craft and defend an argument, and how to write and document in a scholarly fashion. From that experience I gained lifelong skills, which I later applied as an editor of a library journal. I have been affiliated with UNC as a student and as a professional, and I don’t think you could ask for a better combination. My appreciation for Carolina is for those lifelong gifts.”

The affection that Charles and Marcia developed for Carolina early in their careers has endured, grown, and deepened, ultimately inspiring them to make the commitment to establish the Duncan-Lowry Deanship at SILS. The commitment is the largest in the School’s history and the first at Carolina to be designated for a deanship.

“When we were reviewing our lives, together and individually, SILS became a natural choice,” Marcia said. “The point of a legacy is to provide a pathway for future generations. It says ‘This is what we did and what we believe in, and we hope this will encourage you in your own journey down this path.’”

Careers at the center of academia and change

Charles enrolled in SILS after developing an appreciation for the work of librarians while earning his PhD in history at the University of Florida. After graduating from UNC in 1974, he embarked on a career that included serving as director of libraries at Elon College, University of South Alabama, and University of Texas at Arlington (UTA); university librarian at Carnegie Mellon University; dean of libraries at the University of Maryland (UMD); and executive director of the Association of Research Libraries in Washington, D.C. He made numerous, influential contributions to teaching, scholarship, and editorial work in the field, and the SILS Alumni Association recognized him as a Distinguished Alumnus in 2001.

Marcia was drawn to working in higher education, and librarianship offered the chance to be at the center of all types of scholarly work, as well as the opportunity to interact with faculty and students. Over the course of her career, she held management positions in both public and university libraries, as well as leadership roles in art librarianship and preservation. She maintained a special affinity for academic librarianship and spent the last years of her career as managing/copy editor of portal: Libraries and the Academy (Johns Hopkins University Press). 

She was also an active partner in development activities related to Charles’ senior academic leadership roles, particularly at UTA and UMD, where they successfully coordinated endeavors for the libraries’ involvement in two major university capital campaigns. Her work on the Friends of the UTA Libraries publicity won the ALA’s John Cotton Dana Public Relations Special Award in 1988.

Charles’ and Marcia’s careers coincided with a radical transformation of the library and information science field. Today, instead of heading to the card catalog, people start their searches for information online. This is only possible, Charles points out, thanks to an untold amount of planning, organization, and work done by information professionals, who continue to provide the crucial “human interface” to the digital world.

Despite the echoing cry that the Internet will make (or already has made) libraries obsolete, Marcia and Charles believe the opposite to be true.“In my experience, every step in automation that we did, everything that moved us toward online information, resulted in an immediate increase in people using the library,” he said. “As you make it easier to get information, people want more information.”

This growing appetite means the roles of library and information science professionals will continue to expand as they work to ensure continued access, improve searchability, evaluate resources, navigate copyright law, preserve historical artifacts, manage crucial data and research repositories, and more.       

“Our hallmark is we are an evolving profession,” Marcia said. “We have our finger on the pulse, always have, and it will stay there.”

Looking forward, giving back

Having witnessed so many changes, Marcia and Charles do not claim to know exactly what is coming next, but they are confident that SILS and its graduates are well-positioned to play a vital role in that future.

That’s part of why they have committed both financial and personal resources to supporting the School. Charles agreed to serve as a member of the SILS Board of Visitors in 2012 and later as its chair. Now he and Marcia will co-chair the committee that will help steer SILS’ efforts during the university-wide capital campaign.

Their other motivation comes from the gratitude they feel for what Carolina did for them, and for the rewarding careers that followed. “You have some obligation to give to the world that gave something to you,” Charles said. “No one makes it on their own.”

“We all stand on the shoulders of others,” Marcia added.


This story was originally published in the Fall 2016 SILS newsletter.