A Profile on the Barnwell Library

By: Xinyan Zheng 284

“Each one of these books represents a place you can go. Picture the whole library as a tree and every one of these stacks or collections of shelves as a branch stemming off of there.” Since 2017, Mr. Lobron has operated the scholarly hub of Central High School. Although the library has an annual turnout of several thousand visitors, it still remains at large, an underutilized resource. This is particularly unfortunate as the library could benefit the welfare and prosperity of every student. 

Pre-dating the construction of our familiar campus, the Barnwell Library was installed with modern equipment at the building on 15th and Green Street in 1923. The namesake was James G. Barnwell, a Central alum, who in the late nineteenth century, convinced the school that in order to be considered a bonafide college-level school, a library was essential. As a result, Barnwell’s foundation donated the funds to finance such a project. 

The library currently houses an abundance of both digital and analog materials. Among the shelves are 25,000 volumes of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, SAT prep books, books written by Central alums, and textbooks for every discipline taught in Central including AP and IB. Digitally, the library provides access to several databases. Among the two most heavily used are the ProQuest SIRS Researcher and the ProQuest History Study Center. The former of which provides the users with the pros and cons of any contemporary issues that may be debatable. In addition, the library’s website directs students to other resources including the National Archives, the Library of Congress, Cornell University School of Law, and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Many students nowadays believe that a library’s resources cannot compare to that of a search engine. However, Mr. Lobron remarks that “couldn’t be further from the truth. Universities and professional researchers lean heavily on books.” In terms of college-readiness skills, knowing how to access an authentic source of information, paraphrasing, and citing the source, are critical skills, regardless of your field of study. Like a fisherman casting out their net, Mr. Lobron hopes to visit every 9th-grade English class by the end of the year to ensure every student gets a primer on how to access digital and analog resources. In addition to assisting students with their homework, this tutorial equips students with the rudiments of doing research-based assignments.

Mr. Lobron and his aides work diligently to keep the library clean, tidy, and quiet. He noted that one of the biggest obstacles in his role is managing a library packed with students. With the help of his aides, Mr. Lobron has been able to ensure that the students in the library are respectful and quiet, ensuring that students have the opportunity to learn, read, or study. 

Aside from literary works, the library also boasts an impressive collection of fascinating artifacts. The library has a portrait of every former president of Central, two model ships made by a professional, and a twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary which contains six pages that speak to the word “love” and its different meanings. There are two copies of the Quran situated next to a copy of the Bible, and a framed letter from Central alum and famous playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, who was a regular in the Barnwell Library during her school days. Cases of the Rilling Collection, donated by Central alum, David Rilling, and his wife Karina Rilling, encompassing fossils, minerals, and tribal art from Africa and Oceania are dispersed around the library. 

In the age of the internet, a library remains invaluable, never becoming obsolete. Beyond free printing services, carrels with desktop computers, and armchairs, the Barnwell brings priceless benefits to the mind. Mr. Lobron laments that a library is “not just the materials. It’s a sacred space that sets itself apart from the chaos, the noise, and the overcrowded nature of the rest of the building. A person needs to give themselves time to reflect and be mindful of who they are, what their goals are, and what they’re striving for. There’s no better place for that than a library.” Barnwell enthusiastically welcomes all students to reflect, study, or crack open a book. Regardless of how you choose to make use of the library and its vast offerings, here’s a friendly reminder to sign in on your next visit!

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