Robinson was named chief of the Archives Department at the Virginia State Library in 1915, at age thirty-nine. He had previously practiced law in Richmond and had worked as a historian for the War and Navy Departments in Washington, D.C., researching Revolutionary War records in Richmond. At the Archives Department, Robinson embarked on an ambitious program to process the collections and reorganize the manuscript reading room, replacing the old wooden shelves with metal ones and, for the first time, purchasing tables and chairs for researchers, funded by an appropriation from the General Assembly. Staff began to index newly accessioned Confederate rosters and sort through records recently discovered in the rafters of the Capitol. While working in the Archives Department, Robinson wrote several books and articles on the commonwealth’s history, among them Virginia Counties: Those Resulting from Virginia Legislation (1916). In 1918, the General Assembly appointed him Virginia’s first state archivist.
Change came to the Archives Department during Robinson’s tenure. From 1916 to 1924, juniors and seniors studying American history at Westhampton College (a women’s liberal arts undergraduate institution in Richmond) worked as archives apprentices in the Virginia State Library. Robinson initiated the program, and confessed that one day he hoped to have “a small army of young women willing to assist him in his important and interesting work.” Robinson needed the help, because the Archives Department staff was small and the collection crowded; the students likewise benefited from the practical experience.
The apprentices were assigned to research miscellaneous legislative petitions and successfully identified more than 1,200 assorted election returns, which had been flat-filed. Robinson trained the apprentices to be careful researchers and potential historians, assigned them readings in archival theory, and drilled them in the basics of handling and arranging documents. He was likely assisted in this task by Estelle Bass, who began work as an assistant in the Archives Department in 1918. (By 1925, she had been named assistant state archivist, and she would work in the Archives Department for nearly forty years). While the apprentices worked, Robinson himself assembled petitions that had “strayed into other files of papers” in the Archives. He hoped that the archival apprentice program would help make the Archives Department into “Virginia’s Historical Laboratory,” and that it would serve as a model for programs in other states.
During his long career, Robinson strove to make records more accessible. He “acted as sort of an amiable gadfly to the county and city clerks of the State,” according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch , which lauded his efforts to ensure that local records were stored in fireproof buildings. In 1940 Robinson witnessed the historic move of the Library’s growing collections from the Old Finance Building on Capitol Square to a new building on Capitol Street. His tenure at the Library traces the history of the Archives Department in two buildings and across three decades.
Robinson died on Sunday, October 24, 1943, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery near his mother and his grandfather, Virginia politician Col. Charles S. Morgan. His grave is located near President’s Circle with a commanding view of the James River. Robinson’s will left “all of the residue” of his library, including his books, personal papers, and “State Library Memorabilia,” to the Virginia Historical Society.