Making libraries a priority: how an Evergreen student is working for rural communities

Waylon Robert in the historical Hoquiam Timberland Library

Waylon Robert has the presence of an old soul. His smile, mannerisms, and style of dress are memorable, and his fascination with history is evident in his studies and conversations.

Perhaps this cocktail of personality traits helped the 20-year-old Evergreen student recently secure $250,000 in state funding to help restore a rural library in Grays Harbor County; but it’s also his fierce tenacity, drive, and compassion.

“Libraries are incredibly relevant,” says Robert. “They’re a safe place for kids, a job-finding resource, and for some people, libraries are their only means of internet access.”

Through Evergreen, Robert connected with the right people to conduct his research and drive that message home. He was offered an internship position with the City of Hoquiam, working under City Administer and Evergreen alumnus Brian Shay.

“I knew the work was going to be challenging,” admits Robert. “l also knew the best way to learn about a community is to talk to a reporter. I found John Hughes from Aberdeen’s newspaper, The Daily World—he’s a walking encyclopedia and well-respected in the Grays Harbor community and he’s now the state historian.”

It was through Shay and Hughes that Robert began to understand the people, economy, and history of Grays Harbor County, including Aberdeen and Hoquiam. The Hoquiam Timberland Library became Robert’s office, and he saw firsthand the beauty of the historical building, and the importance of its resources for locals.

“Waylon is very involved with historic renovation—he saw the need that so many of these libraries have. Most people don’t know that public libraries are owned by the city and to have the funds to maintain a huge historic building gets challenging,” says Shay. “But Waylon helped us—he can be very persuasive. His successes far exceeded my expectations.”

Robert with alumnus and Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay.

Waylon Robert with alumnus and Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay. 

It was also through Shay and Hughes that Robert grew his support team. He was introduced to former Secretary of State Sam Reed, Representative (and Evergreen alumnus) Brian Blake, and State Librarian Cindy Aden, among other important influencers.

“Ninety percent of politics is doing your homework, and communication and relationships are vital,” says Robert. “There are a lot of good ideas in the legislature, but you really need a champion to get on board.”

With his army of supporters behind him, Robert continues to raise money, pulling in around $40,000 in additional funding from the community, with half from an anonymous donor.

After finishing the Hoquiam project Robert then secured an $80,000 budget proviso. The proviso will finance a capital inventory for libraries in the 21 distressed counties. If the need is great enough Robert will pursue the creation of a grant program for libraries in Washington's capital budget. Robert is currently working on a 16-credit Independent Learning Contract (ILC) to continue these efforts.

At Evergreen, Robert is also on the Geoduck Student Union. Last year, he brought the roving Washington Supreme Court to campus, and this year he’s spearheading a summer grant fund for students who can’t afford unpaid internships.

“You can really make your education at Evergreen whatever you want it to be,” says Robert. “I got to have the legislature as my classroom, state representatives as my professors, and at the end of the day I had the Evergreen woods to come home to.”

Photo: (Top) Waylon Robert in the historical Hoquiam Timberland Library (Photos: Evergreen/Shauna Bittle)