Orangeburg’s tumultuous past influences life today in this South Carolina town. The site of the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre in which three students from one of the county’s historically black colleges were shot dead by police during an antisegregation protest, this rural community of 90,000 spread out over 1,100 square miles is still rife with poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy.
Orangeburg County Library (OCL) executive director Roberta Bibbins is determined to make the library a positive corrective to this daunting reality. At the helm of OCL since January 2011, Bibbins has used her 15 years of library experience, mostly in North Carolina, to establish a strategic plan, redesign the website, start the first Orangeburg Library Foundation, and plan a branch renovation. She’s secured over $48,000 in grants for library materials, resources, and programming. OCL now delivers digital materials like Jasmine ebooks (from OverDrive), Freegal music, and Mango languages, as well as its first newsletter and events calendar. The number of library cardholders and circulation rates have shot through the roof.
“There are better books on the shelves, better computers in the lab, and more smiles on the faces of community members and staff because of Roberta,” says Anna Zacherl, an adult services librarian at OCL.
Bibbins sits on the leadership team of the Literacy 2030 initiative, which aims to eliminate illiteracy in South Carolina’s midlands region by 2030. To that end, Bibbins has encouraged her staff to develop programs for both toddlers and teens. “Once I gave these clever women the permission and resources to grow and create, they did just that,” she says. OCL has partnered with outside institutions to expose kids of all ages to art, music, and science. “Science Saturdays at the Orangeburg County Library” enables students to explore, create, and experiment with educators from EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia. Bibbins has developed partnerships with SCWORKS, the YMCA, the Orangeburg County Development Commission, Calhoun County, local school districts, universities, and day care and senior centers.
Now Bibbins is campaigning for a new main library facility with more space, technology, staff, and programs, as well as new regional branches. She also churns out the grant proposals aimed at funding it all. “Our role is to be the focus in the community…a place where people can get together to learn, collaborate, create, and enjoy each other’s company.”