Meet Gwen Robinson: she’s not an average librarian
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, firstname.lastname@example.org
The image of a stern female librarian with glasses perched on her nose, wearing wool skirts and pearls is no longer a part of the libraries of today. In fact, the new branch manager of the Darlington library is pretty darn hip.
And patrons love it!
I met with Gwen Robinson during the last days of the renovation, which was done with much assistance from the Cornerstone Baptist Church’s Mission Fest.
“Librarians are younger, and tattooed,” said Gwen. “It’s just a different atmosphere than when we were younger. We are not going around saying, ‘Shhhh!’ We want you to keep calm and let people concentrate, certainly, but it’s much more laid back. I think people feel comfortable coming in. We wear jeans and tennis shoes some days to get the job done.”
Gwen, who is young, slim and decidedly hip does in fact sport a pretty tattoo on her forearm. She is passionate about the impact the library has on the community, starting back when she first began her 15-year career with the Darlington County Library System.
“I am from Society Hill, and started working at the former little library they had back in 1999, when I was about 21 years old,” she said. “Board member Amanda King encouraged my mother to get me to apply. We had two computers and shelves with not many books. Thanks to great volunteers in the community, we started the Friends of the Society Hill Library and came up with all sorts of fundraisers, published cookbook, all sorts of ways to raise funds to finally get the new, larger library.”
After five years in Society Hill, Robinson has worked the past 10 years at the Darlington branch as the cataloger. “I had no idea that 15 years later I’d still be working with the library.”
During the five years she worked in Society Hill, Robinson met a child, Andre Isaac, that became her proudest memory of her years with the library system.
“This little 8 year old boy started coming to the library,” recalled Robinson. “And he hung out in the library a lot. He ended up volunteering when he got a little older, then worked in the library for a while before he went off to attend Winthrop College. It gives me chill bumps when I think of it. We still keep in touch.”
Robinson and her husband, Jason, now have a child of their own, a little girl, age 7. The couple collaborated on a new addition to the library using Director of the Darlington County Library System, Jimmie Epling’s adaptation of the South Carolina Flag insignia of Palmetto Tree and Crescent moon, with a open book page ‘leaves’ – designed by Jimmie Epling,; a 3-D sculpture now hangs just inside the front door, in the large circle above the entrance inside the library.
“We’ve always had that large circle, which was wallpapered from the 1980’s,” said Gwen. “I knew it would be a great focal point. My husband is a mechanical engineer at Aero Acoustic; his company donated the stainless steel, and he drew out our logo. It is about 16 lbs of stainless steel anchored up there. Now we finally have a focal point- and the bright yellow really stands out with the new gray painted areas.”
The fact that the local company Aero Acoustic (located in Darlington on I-20, just at the Darlington and Florence border) so generously donated the supplies and skills for this project fits in with Gwen’s future plans for the library, something she has talked with extensively with City of Darlington Mayor Tony Watkins, who works part time at the library as a reference desk.
“The Mayor and I have talked about in the next few months about really getting out into the community and getting businesses involved,” she said. “We are looking for donations for the weekly prizes for our summer reading program, which starts in June. It’s going to be hero-based, so ‘super heroes’ will be visiting. One of our local speakers will be baseball player Orlando Hudson who is coming in July. We know he’ll be a great role model for our kids to hear.”
Another one of Gwen’s focus projects will be the non-fiction area of the library; anything dealing with technology and the medical information is constantly changing. “We really want to make sure we keep everything up to date.”
When the position of manager opened up, Robinson served as the interim manager. Epling spoke to her about applying for the job. “It’s been an easy transition, I just picked up where the last person left off.
“We have an amazing staff here. We all get along so well, and we all come to work with smiles on our faces. I think the public really picks up on that. People seem to really enjoy coming in, and they know we are here to help them. ”
Robinson said that the patrons miss them when they are closed, as they were during the renovations.
“This is a part of their lives. People work out of the library. When we are closed, as we were for renovations, this affected their workday. They use our computers, our WiFi.
As Robinson heads back to resume the renovation activities, she looks out at the camaraderie and laughter from the community volunteers and staff working briskly together. “This is what we are all about.”
To join the Friends of the Darlington Library: $10 Senior or Student, $25 Individual; $50 Family; $75 Patron; $100 Benefactor; and $250 Sustainer. Send checks to: Darlington County Library Friends, 204 N. Main St., Darlington SC 29532 and add your name, address, email address and telephone number.
For more information on the library, contact them at: 843-398-4940 and: darlington-lib.org with links to Overdrive and the eReader, Ancestry.com, Mango languages and more. Be sure to “like” their Facebook pages:
Darlington County Library System and Darlington County Library
Would you like to know how we managed to shoot the photo used in this story? We had a little help from Mayor Tony Watkins, who just so happens to know how to operate a lift.