It is with great sadness that we share with you the news that longtime director of BCPL Charles W. Robinson, or Charlie as he was better known, passed away peacefully in his sleep at the age of 87 on Friday, April 8. A memorial service will be held on Friday, May 13 at 2 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Lutherville.
Charles Robinson was born in Peking, China, in 1928, where his father was a medical missionary. He left China in early 1941 for Newton, Massachusetts. He graduated from the Hotchkiss School, then went to Colby College where he majored in history, government and economics. After graduation, he entered Simmons College, School of Library Science, graduating with a Master of Library Science degree in August 1951. Mr. Robinson then served as a sergeant with the 2nd Infantry Division in Korea, where he was in charge of battle casualty reporting and awards and decorations for the 38th Infantry Regiment.
Mr. Robinson began his professional career in 1953 at the Free Library of Philadelphia, where he was the administrative assistant to the director, Emerson Greenway, before moving to Baltimore County where he joined the staff of the Baltimore County Public Library as the assistant county librarian on January 12, 1959. When Director Richard D. Minnich died suddenly in 1963, the Board of Library Trustees named Mr. Robinson the director. Thus began a 33-year era of innovative, progressive and inspired leadership that moved Baltimore County Public Library to the forefront of public library service in the nation. He oversaw the openings of nine branches, as well as several mini-libraries. Mr. Robinson forever changed the library world with his revolutionary (and controversial at the time) theory of “Give ’em what they want,” focusing on more popular titles that customers wanted to read. He is considered one of the most influential librarians of the 20th century.
Mr. Robinson served as the president of the Public Library Association in 1985, and twice served on the Council of the American Library Association. He received the Maryland Library Association’s Outstanding Member Award in 1977 for innovative, consistent efforts toward progress and development in library service in the state of Maryland and Maryland Library Association Honorary Membership in 1997.
In 1991, Mr. Robinson received a Public Library Association Presidential Citation in recognition of extraordinary service and commitment to the advancement of the Public Library Association. His exceptional contributions include a major role in the development of several publications considered vital to the good management of public libraries. They are Output Measures for Public Libraries, Planning and Role Setting for Public Libraries and the establishment of the annual publication of the Public Library Data Service, Statistical Report.
Upon the occasion of his retirement, the Public Library Association with funding from the Baker and Taylor Company, Inc. established the Charles W. Robinson Award to be given annually to an outstanding practitioner in the library field who has demonstrated innovative and responsive leadership resulting in the improvement of public library service.
After retirement from Baltimore County Public Library in 1996, Mr. Robinson continued his involvement in the world of public libraries as the editor of the Library Administrator’s Digestuntil his health forced him to step down as editor in November of 2015.
Sympathy cards can be sent to his wife and family at:
Blakehurst Retirement Community Apt 546
1055 West Joppa
Towson, MD 21204
You can honor Charlie’s years of service to BCPL with a gift in his memory to the Foundation for BCPL. Write a personal message to his family or a memory of Charlie in the comments field and we’ll send them to his family.