News for the Neighborhood #36
Charlene Baldwin

Charlene Baldwin

When Chapman University’s Dean of the Leatherby Libraries, Charlene Baldwin, traveled to Nigeria in 1966 as a Peace Corps volunteer, she embraced the Peace Corps goals of learning about other cultures, sharing American culture abroad, and providing “middle level manpower” to assist with community development in the village of Lalupon, Nigeria. Twenty-seven months later, after a profound experience that created memories to last a lifetime, she returned to the United States with a definite career path in mind-becoming a librarian.

During her service in Nigeria, Baldwin’s most meaningful project was turning the town jail into a library. “I wanted to give the kids in the village who couldn’t go to school a chance to get their equivalent of a GED, so it was important to create a room where they could read and study,” says Baldwin. “We packed a lot of books into the little space and created a quiet refuge for learning. The citizens were so dedicated to creating the library that it was the first time the entire town pitched in and worked on a project together.”

Baldwin’s experience in Nigeria was so life-altering that she promised the villagers she and her family would return every decade, and she has, including a late 2008 trip that included her son and granddaughter. Of all of her return trips to Africa, however, Baldwin’s return visit in late 1975 was the most moving. “It was Christmas Eve and the village had just received electricity,” she says. “It always tugs at my heart to remember that the first light bulb to be turned on was in the library.”

For Baldwin, who has been at Chapman since 2000, those memorable months in Nigeria and subsequent return trips have positively colored her illustrious career as a librarian.

“The Peace Corps experience helped me develop an international perspective to my work,” says Baldwin, who notes that part of Chapman’s mission is to educate students to become ethical global citizens. In keeping with this goal, Baldwin has striven to incorporate a worldwide perspective, including overseeing the library’s map collection and her involvement with a bi-annual library forum that brings Mexican and American librarians together.

Baldwin also regularly speaks on the importance of libraries in the electronic age to a wide variety of audiences, including the University of Peking in 2006.

“Despite all of the speculation, I can say for certain that libraries are still essential today,” she says. “The library is always going to be a repository for information, and there is more information now than ever before. Librarians are the gatekeepers of all of this information and perform the critical task of helping users find what they want from reliable and trustworthy sources. Not all books are born digital. A lot of the fun part of being a librarian is deciding which to buy in an electronic version and those that will better serve readers in a paper format. There has never been a more exciting time to be a librarian.”

Leatherby Libraries

Located in the middle of Chapman University, the Leatherby Libraries are visited by up to 800,000 people every year. This impressive 100,000-square-foot, fivestory building which opened the Fall semester of 2004, serves as an intellectual and cultural center of the campus. With its goal of being a preeminent portal to the world’s knowledge, Leatherby holds over 300,000 books, bound volumes and media within nine distinctive libraries. There are 10,000 electronic books and 34,000 full text electronic journals.

Containing wireless technology and over 300 computer workstations throughout the library, the facility provides the perfect location for learning and studying. There are 15 study rooms and 650 study/research stations containing power and data access. There are also six multi-media preview rooms.

This exceptional library has also become well-known for its cultural and art amenities such as its photo and autograph collection of the complete cast of the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, and a collection of seven Norman Rockwell signed lithographs. It also offers a variety of exhibits, including archives, artifacts, and documents concerning the Holocaust in the Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library and “Learning through Play: Children’s Toys from the 19th and 20th Centuries in the Pankey Library of Education.”

Chapman’s Leatherby Libraries are open to the public. Visit for more information.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2009 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph by Mike Escobedo

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