Robert Erwin was born in Christchurch and educated at Elmwood School, Christchurch Boys’ High School and St Andrew’s College. In 1949 he began working as a librarian at the University of Canterbury Library. He was appointed sciences librarian in 1966 and reference librarian in 1972. He worked in the Acquisition Department up until his retirement in 1992.
Erwin studied as a part-time student at Canterbury University and graduated with a B.A. and M.A. majoring in Psychology in 1962. In 1962 he attended the New Zealand Library School in Wellington and graduated with a Dip.N.Z.L.S.
His involvement with the New Zealand Library Association saw him editing the New Zealand libraries journal and giving lectures at the Library School. Erwin wrote non-fiction publications, articles, reviews and bibliographies. He wrote an article in Landfall in the 1970s about two works attributed to Evelyn Hayes. Keenly interested in the arts, Erwin curated Word and Image: Six Centuries of Illuminated Books, an exhibition at the Robert McDougall Art Gallery with Robin Stevens in 1980. He was first president of the Friends of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery and was an advisory trustee of the Macmillan Brown estate.
- Phone conversation with Robert Erwin 30 April 1993.
- "Alumni Obituaries." UC Alumni 11.2 (2003): 40.
- Broadbent, Max. "Robert Erwin (1932-2003)." www.comsdev.canterbury.ac.nz/chronicle/2003/0310v38.pdf 12 June 2008.
- Māori Stereotypes in Some Early New Zealand Literature. Ed. J. Ritchie. [Wellington, N.Z.]: Victoria University Department of Psychology publication. No further details.
- This was based on Erwin’s MA thesis.
- Early American Imprints: 1639-1800: A Guide to Their Use. [Comp. R. N. Erwin]. [Christchurch, N.Z.]: Library, U of Canterbury, 1976.
- Sir Apirana Ngata: a Preliminary Bibliography of His Printed Work. Wellington, N.Z.: National Library Service, Library School, 1964. Bibliog. series no. 7.
- John Macmillan Brown: A Bibliography of His Printed Writings. [Christchurch, N.Z.: R. N. Erwin, 1973].
- An unannotated bibliography of the printed work of J. Macmillan Brown. It is divided into three sections: monographs, contributions to journals and newspapers, and miscellanea which includes newspaper reports of Macmillan Brown’s lectures.
- Janet Frame: A Bibliography of Her Major Writings, Reviews of Her Works and Critical Commentaries. Christchurch, N.Z.: The Library, U of Canterbury, 1988.
- This bibliography is divided into two sections: the first section is a bibliography of Frame’s publications with a list of reviews under each citation and a list of her work translated into other languages; the second section lists critical commentaries on her writing.
- "Library treasures." [Christchurch, N.Z.: University of Canterbury Library, 1992]
- Robert Erwin speaking on one sound cassette. Cassette 95/18.
- "The ‘New Zealanders’: European Opinion, 1642-1840." MA Diss. U Canterbury, 1961.
- This thesis was summarised in a lecture with Jim Ritchie in Auckland in 1962/3.