Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Melanie Huggins of the Richland County Public Library

Star Profile

Melanie Huggins

Melanie Huggins

At the Richland County Public Library you can find more than 1.1 million books and another 90,000 nonprint resources. The main RCPL building and its branches saw 2,290,404 visitors last year.

The main library building at the corner of Assembly and Hampton was built about 20 years ago for $48 a square foot, a relative bargain. Designed by Gene Aubry, formerly of Morris– Aubry Architects in Houston, the main building has its children’s collection in a separate area downstairs. Aubry pioneered the idea of a separate children’s section at Houston’s Central Library.

In 2001, under executive director David Warren, the RCPL was named the National Library of the Year.

Since July 2009, overall management systemwide of the RCPL has been under Melanie Huggins, a native Columbian whose father was in trucking management. He moved the family to Goose Creek, S.C.; Raleigh, N.C.; St. Louis, Mo.; and finally back to West Columbia when Huggins was in middle school. She graduated from Airport High School, where she was a cheerleader and also a performer in dance and the chorus/ piano.

At Winthrop University in Rock Hill, Huggins was an art major, the course offerings that attracted the intellectually most interesting undergraduates, Huggins thought. For financial support while in college, Huggins waited tables. Upon graduation she continued to work in food service, to include a stint in Colorado’s Peaceful Valley.

Huggins moved back to Cayce and a job with D’s Wings and another with Motor Supply. She shifted into library employment in early 1994 when she took a position in the RCPL Children’s Room. Besides reading to the kids, her job tapped her creative side refined as a fine arts major at Winthrop.

The next year Huggins was in graduate school and she scored a part–time position as a graduate assistant in library and information science at RCPL. She and her husband J.C. married that fall.

Huggins and her master’s degree landed a job as the children’s librarian at the West Boulevard Branch Library in Charlotte, part of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County. She stayed on the job in Charlotte while she and J.C. began their family.

Their first child was Adeline, who is now in the fifth grade at Satchel Ford Elementary. Next came Lila, who is at the USC Children’s Center. Their youngest is Shepard, two years old, also at the USC Children’s Center.

Husband J.C. started his own Web site design firm about the time the couple moved to Charlotte. Huggins stayed with the Charlotte library as the youth services director for six years, enough time to program, plan, and build the ImaginOn, a 102,000 sq. ft. library with the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte on 7th Street.

While in Charlotte, Huggins successfully combined her love of the arts, passion for encouraging creativity in young people, and belief in the strength of partnerships by developing several nationally acclaimed library projects, including “Smart Connections,” a cultural partnership with the library supporting local arts organizations. Also in the national limelight was “Continue the Contact,” a partnership with the Department of Social Services that gives backpacks of books and art supplies to youth going into foster care.

In 2006, Huggins and her family moved to St. Paul, Minn., where she became the director of the St. Paul Public Library, and where her husband went to work for Blue- Cross BlueShield Minn. In her three years there, she increased attendance at programs and events by more than 70 percent. She initiated the library’s first Leadership Academy to develop leadership skills throughout the organization. And she positioned the library as a champion in the areas of early literacy, workforce development and college access.

Since 2004, Huggins has been a consultant with Providence Associates, creating the “Bringing the Plan to Life” strategic plan implementation workshop. With Providence, she helped develop a 25–year Master Facilities and Service Plan for the State Library of Delaware. And at St. Paul before becoming director, Huggins assisted with the St. Paul Public Library’s strategic planning process.

Huggins is a frequent speaker and facilitator for other libraries and organizations. She is the past chair of the Forecasting Strategy Group for Urban Libraries Council, while she is active with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the American Library Association (ALA). Currently, she serves as the chair of the early childhood program and series group for ALA.

Huggins often brags about her RCPL main building, which might not look like a library to some with its gathering spaces and meeting rooms and art on the walls. And there is always a security staff of at least five at any one time that is not so concerned with library science as they are guaranteeing security. With so many young people all across the building, the RCPL must both manage and secure the kids, all part of Huggins’s job.

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