Posted on Behalf of Guest Blogger and Librarian Josh Hem Lee
At the 1996 dedication of the Denver Public Library branch named for her, Pauline Robinson is reported to have said, “Of all the honors, the truest satisfaction that I’ve received throughout my career has been encouraging young people to continue their education and to prepare for their life long goals.” These words aptly describe Robinson’s life time of work and commitment to children.
Born in Oklahoma in 1915, Robinson learned to read before she entered school under the able tutelage of her grandfather. She graduated high school in Lawton, Oklahoma, and thereafter relocated to Denver where she worked as a domestic. Robinson long harbored the ambition of being a lawyer, but the high cost of a law education prevented the fulfillment of this plan.
She found a job at the Community Vocational Center Library in Five Points, the heart of Denver’s African American community. There she observed that students lacked books that would help them learn about their rich African heritage. In the 1940s, the library did not have a budget to purchase African American books and materials. Robinson launched a fundraiser by selling home-baked pies and cakes and made $40, enough to purchase a collection of African American children’s materials. She also did outreach to businesses in the community to raise funds to purchase African American newspapers and journals.
Robinson realized that she loved teaching children to read, but after being told that the Denver Public School system would not hire African American teachers to teach classes higher than the first-grade, she applied to the University of Denver’s library school. In 1945, Robinson became Denver’s first African American librarian at the newly opened Cosmopolitan Branch Library. This, despite being told by a supervisor years earlier that, “There would never be a professional Negro working at the Denver Public Library.”
Robinson left a lasting legacy; she played a key role in bringing the Reading Is Fundamental program to Denver. She served 15 years as DPL’s Coordinator of Children Services, worked at several DPL branches and served on selection committees for two national prestigious book awards. Robinson retired from the Denver Public Library in 1979. In 1973 she was inducted into the library's Blacks in Colorado Hall of Fame and in 2000, she was inducted into The Colorado Women's Hall of Fame.
Robinson died in 1997, one year after DPL named the Pauline Robinson branch in her honor. "Like" the Pauline Robinson’s Facebook page for more information about upcoming events and activities for children and adults.
Colorado Women's Hall of Fame. (n.d.). Pauline Short Robinson. Retrieved from http://www.cogreatwomen.org/project/pauline-short-robinson/
Denver Public Library. (n.d). The history of the Denver public library. Retrieved from https://history.denverlibrary.org/history-denver-public-library
Taylor, Q., & Wilson-Moore, S. (Eds.). (2003). African American women confront the west, 1600-2000, Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.