It's a milestone day for the city of Fort Worth, and it brings something good for a woman dedicated to literacy.
“One of the girls in the retirement office said, 'You cannot work one day in October. You have to finish up on September 30'," joked Gleniece Robinson, who will retire Wednesday after a 40-year career in public service in public libraries and literacy.
Robinson worked first in the Dallas Public Library, then in 1999 headed west to become the public library director in Fort Worth.
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Robinson retired the first time in 2017 but the city asked her to move from the library to city hall to become the director of education strategies to create a role for the City of Fort Worth in support of public education, specifically grade-level reading.
And it's in that space where Robinson wants to stay after retirement.
“The citywide goal in Fort Worth is that by 2025, 100% of children in third grade will be reading at third-grade level. And I intend to work just as hard, even harder than I have the last few years, to make that goal a success. We have got be able to have our children reading so that they can be successful and we have a good economy and a great quality of life for all of us,” Robinson said.
"If you’re able to read, graduate from high school, go to college, get a better job, you can provide better housing, you can provide better food. So a lot of those other societal ills we are grappling with, in my opinion, could be addressed by making sure that we have a more educated work force.”
Robinson points to two key events in her life that ultimately led to her to pursue a path of literacy. Both happened while growing up in Alabama.
"10th grade when I worked in my first job working in a school library, I was taking a half credit class working in the library, and that’s when I learned the availability and access to information just simply made a world of difference where a fundamental decision you’re making, if you had more information – buying a car, buying an appliance – that if you had information available to you about the quality of that appliance or durability of it, comparing costs - you could make a much more informed decision. And that was when my passion was ignited about providing access to information, but fundamental to that is the ability to read because if you’re unable to read, to comprehend, to have critical thinking skills to make good decisions based on information available to you, then you just don’t make the same kind of decisions," she said.
While Robinson had access to the library at her high school, she was not allowed to enter public libraries.
“At the time I grew up, in the 60s, and we could not go to the public library which is why it amazes me that I, in my later years, became an advocate for public libraries at I time I could not enter those libraries," she said. "That may have been a part of the passion I have instilled in me, is for people to be able to access information and to access it freely. “
“I would bet you it was probably in college before I set foot in a public library, but I still believe in the value of public libraries. And that’s one reason I worked so hard to make public libraries a mainstream of city services and to let people know they have these services available to them," she continued.
Giving people access to access to information is where Robinson found her calling and where her impact will last through generations.
A news release detailed the following:
“Under her leadership, the Library conducted its first master plan in 2003, which focused on services. The plan resulted in a new automation system, new computers for staff and the public and an increase in the materials budget. Other changes included improved marketing of the collection by moving adult popular titles from the basement to the ground floor, which led to an increase in materials borrowed. The master plan was updated in 2011 using data that focused on customer behaviors. The updated plan also included a look at facilities and recommended smaller community libraries, joint city facilities and locations in shopping centers and malls. Under Robinson’s leadership, new libraries were included in the 2004, 2014 and 2018 bond elections.”
Robinson says after decades of public service, it's time to pass the torch. She has no other offer on the table but there is desire to stay focused on the work she loves.
“I’m saying retirement to a 9 to 5 and I get to work on whatever I want and whenever I want," she said. “After 40 years of doing this work, it’s time for me to move to a different way of doing the same work."
She looks forward to getting some time for herself, and as with any librarian, books are part of the plan. She wants to dive back into books by Toni Morrison, "one of my all time favorite authors" and has Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye on her nightstand. She also wants to read more of James Baldwin starting with rereading, The Fire Next Time.
As Robinson thinks back on nearly a lifetime in public service, she measures success by the people who've been on the journey with her.
“The thing I point to most are the people whose lives I might have impacted," she said. "If there’s any one thing I would to is the people. Your legacy goes on the lives of people who pass it on.”