The library was named after Willis N. Hackney, a benefactor of the college and a member of the Hackney family. The Hackney family has been involved with the college since it was founded in 1902 as Atlantic Christian College. The Hackney family provided the initial endowment for the college, and according to the book Barton College: Our Century, “the Hackney family’s lengthy record of leadership and continuous service to Barton College may be unmatched by a single family in the history of any college or university in North Carolina.”
Willis N. Hackney was a grandson of Willis N. Hackney, the founder of the Hackney Brothers Body Company, which was in operation from 1854-1996 in Wilson. Other than BB&T, Hackney Brothers was the oldest company in the city and county of Wilson, which were both founded in the early 1850s. The company originally produced carriages, also known as buggies, which were pulled by horses. In the 1920s the company began producing refrigerated truck bodies, and they also produced school buses from the 1920s through the 1950s. The Hackney Library Archives and Special Collections is the repository of the Hackney Brothers Body Company Collection, which consists of capital assets, brochures, and photographs. Willis N. Hackney’s wife was Roma Hackney, who the music building is named after.
Members of the Hackney family were members of the Board of Trustees from 1902-1999, and from 1907-1985, with the exception of three years in the 1930s, three consecutive presidents of the Hackney Brothers Body Company were also Chairmen of the Board of the Trustees. A plaque between the classrooms on the second floor of the building honors the longest serving chairman, Thomas J. Hackney, Sr., who was a trustee from 1932-1971, and chairman of the board from 1936-1965.
The library was built in the mid-1970s, and was opened in 1977. It replaced the Hardy Library, which was built in 1951. The Hardy Library is now the Hardy Center, which is across the sidewalk from the current library.
The library’s collection includes 121,920 physical books, more than 442,500 electronic books, and a substantial collection of non-print materials, including audiovisuals and streaming media. Hackney Library currently provides full-text access to over 84,478 electronic periodical titles.
The oldest book in the Rare Book Collection is the Oribasii Sardiani collectorum medicinalium libri XVII, printed in 1555 in Venice, Italy with a vellum binding made from calfskin. The most valuable book in the collection is A Collection of Poems by William Shakespeare that was printed in 1709 in London, England.
Twice a year, the library hosts national and regional authors who come to speak about their current books and conduct book signings. Some recent authors who visited the library include: Rosemary Wells, who visited in 2013, is the author of the Max and Ruby books, which is also an animated series on the TV network Nick Jr.; and Vivian Howard, who visited in 2018, is a chef and restaurateur from Kinston, North Carolina, and is a “New York Times” bestselling author, and star of PBS’s award-winning television show, “A Chef’s Life.”