November 16, 2017

Long-running Dispute Over Providence Libraries Settled

The Providence Public Library (PPL), which operates the Rhode Island city’s downtown library and owns seven of the nine neighborhood library buildings, struck a deal today to transfer ownership of the seven buildings to the city for $5 million.

According to an announcement by PPL, the city will make an initial payment of $250,000 to PPL and then make 18 annual payments of $264,000 beginning in 2014. The assessed value of the seven buildings is approximately $11 million.

“This marks an important milestone for library users throughout the city,” said William S. Simmons, chairman of Providence Public Library Board of Trustees. “It provides an amazing and unparalleled framework for access to books, computers, and materials whether it be at the Providence Public Library with its deep collections, or at community libraries that serve city neighborhoods.”

The privately-governed PPL operated every library in Providence until 2009, drawing on private, city, and state funds, but the system became unsustainable. PPL had been maintaining services at the nine branches and the central library by covering deficits with funds from its endowment. But the recession ravaged the library’s endowment and eliminated that option, as LJ reported. The library made plans to close branches.

In response, a group of volunteers established a nonprofit organization called the Providence Community Library (PCL), and the city shifted management of the nine neighborhood libraries to PCL (including the $3.6 million annual city appropriation).

As part of the transition, the 135-year-old PPL donated more than $1 million in branch materials, books, and tools, and PPL agreed to lease the branch buildings to the city for $1 a year. That two-year lease agreement expired in July, creating uncertainty about the future of the branches. PCL sent layoff notices to its entire staff in anticipation of the branches closing, Providence Business News reported.

But the two sides agreed to an extension while retired Superior Court Judge Mark Pfeiffer mediated the agreement reached today. Under the new deal, PCL, which according to its 2011 annual report has 65 employees and a $4.8 million budget funded primarily by the city (78 percent), will continue to operate the neighborhood branches while PPL will own and operate the main library.

The deal also clears the way for fundraising and foundation investment to pay for renovations to the branches, according to PPL’s announcement.

“I want to commend the mayor and the City Council for working so diligently to support the neighborhood libraries and to resolve this issue for the benefit of all Providence residents,” said Marcus Mitchell, president of the Providence Community Library Board.

The seven libraries included in agreement are the Rochambeau, Mount Pleasant, Knight Memorial, Olneyville, Smith Hill, South Providence, and Wanskuck branches. The Washington Park Library building, which is owned by the city, and Fox Point Library building, which is owned by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Providence, were not included in the agreement.

“This is a wonderful way to end 2011,” Mayor Angel Taveras told Boston.com. Taveras and several city councilors unveiled the plan at Smith Hill Library. The City Council still must sign off on the agreement, Boston.com reported.

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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