Library Reform Group

February 28, 2009

Conflicting Press Releases

Filed under: News — Patricia @ 1:38 pm


As the March 1 deadline approaches, as outlined in the Library Agreement, for the City to decide whether or not to accept PPL’s proposal of a Sustainable Library System composed of Central and only Four Branches, PPL issued a press release announcing that the City had opted out of the Agreement.


In response, Mayor Cicilline issued a press release blaming PPL for not abiding by the Agreement, since PPL’s “Sustainable Plan” was not sustainable and would “lead to insolvency within the next two years.”


Providence Community Library then issued ITS own press release, offering to resolve the impasse by operating an “imaginative and cost effective, 21st-century branch system that will meet the needs of library patrons in all our neighborhoods”—and keep all nine branches open.


It appears to us that PPL and the Mayor are drifting further and further apart.  It is time for the City to end its failed relationship with PPL and begin a new library era with PCL.


The Mayor ends his news release by writing  “As always, I welcome any thoughts and feedback you may have.”  Please call, email or write the Mayor to advise him to transfer the City’s library funding to PCL. 


Below are the three press releases, in chronological order:


Date: February 26, 2009

Mayor Opts Out of City/Library Agreement

Library Reviewing Options to Continue Services Moving Forward

PROVIDENCE, RI — In a disappointing development, the Providence Public Library (PPL) and the City administration have failed to achieve an agreement that outlines the process for ongoing funding and administering of City library services.  The agreement was negotiated by the Library and City administration last summer, and approved by the City Council in November, but never signed by the City.  Mayor Cicilline has now informed the Library that he wants a different process. 

Although the Library has been funding the cost of maintaining existing services this year as envisioned by the Council-approved agreement, and paying for a deficit projected to exceed $1 million out of the Library’s endowment, the Mayor’s failure to sign has resulted in the City withholding Master Lease money that was to flow to the Library to help pay the current fiscal year’s expenses.

In the absence of an agreement, many questions remain regarding the future relationship between the City and the Library.  The Providence Public Library now is reviewing its options and plans for administering Library service for the next Fiscal Year that begins in July.

“The focus for everyone involved needs to be on finding the best way to provide library service in the City,” said PPL Chairman William Simmons.  “We remain open to ongoing discussions on how to achieve that goal and have communicated to the Mayor our willingness to work with him and the City Council.”

The newly formed Providence Community Library has garnered some support from members of the public and City Council.  The Library has offered to work with the City to explore whether this may be a viable alternative for branch library service.





Dear friends:

For more than 120 years the City of Providence and the Providence Public Library (PPL) have offered quality library services through a valuable public/private partnership. In recent years, however, this partnership has been strained due to differences between the PPL leadership and the City about branch library services. It has always been my objective as Mayor to preserve this unique partnership and continue to provide quality library services to every neighborhood, even if it means thinking in a new way about what branch libraries look like in the 21st century. 

As a result, the City entered into an agreement with the PPL leadership six months ago requiring them to submit a sustainable plan for library services. Instead, the plan they brought forth, by their own admission, would lead to insolvency within the next two years. Instead of working with us on a viable solution, the PPL leadership has today opted to deliberately misrepresent the City’s position on this matter in the media.

The PPL is a private non-profit, but that does not mean it has the right to transform itself into a boutique institution built around its valuable rare books. That is not the mission of the PPL, and it has been disheartening to watch Library leadership decide to give up on the residents of Providence due to high costs without a real effort to envision a more cost effective, 21st-century branch system. I will not allow branch library services to be eliminated, and I would prefer to preserve a partnership that has worked for 120 years until recently.

However, if we are to succeed in preserving quality library services and neighborhood branches for our residents, we must approach the long-term sustainability of our libraries with the public’s best interest in mind.

As always, I welcome any thoughts and feedback you may have.


David N. Cicilline




It is time to end the City’s partnership with PPL once and for all and to begin a new era for Providence’s libraries.  While the Mayor asserts that he would prefer “to preserve a partnership that has worked for 120 years until recently,” in actuality there have been a number of occasions over the past century when this partnership has been stretched close to the breaking point.   (See Unsettled Accounts:  A Brief History of the Financial Relationship between PPL and Its Public Donors)  During the last six years there has been unabated tension between the city and  PPL as PPL has threatened nearly every spring to close branches and reduce services—and the Library has in fact closed the Washington Park branch for several years and is only now reopening it.


The Providence Community Library stands ready to take over all nine branches on July 1.  With the professional assistance of Louise Blalock, former director of the Hartford Public Library, we are formulating a five-year operating budget that will address budget, personnel and maintenance issues related to running a nine-branch system in Providence. 


The Mayor says that, if we are to succeed in preserving quality library services and neighborhood branches for our residents, we must approach the long-term sustainability of our libraries with the public’s best interest in mind.  We are an organization with widespread community support that plans to involve the public in policy decisions.  We definitely have the public’s best interest in mind because we ARE the public.  As a community-based organization, we will revitalize the library’s operations as well as increase its fund-raising potential. 


Our operating budget will demonstrate that we can provide the City of Providence with an imaginative and cost effective, 21st-century branch system that will meet the needs of library patrons in all our neighborhoods.







Wanskuck Residents Make Impassioned Plea for Keeping Their Library Open

Filed under: Events — Patricia @ 1:21 pm

Over two dozen library patrons crowded into the Wanskuck Library to hear about PPL’s plans to close the small branches, including Wanskuck, and PCL’s proposal to keep them open. 

Patricia Raub represented PCL, but no one from Providence Public Library was on hand to present the Library’s position.  Council President Peter Mancini and Councilman Nick Narducci vowed to keep all of the branches open, and both of them pledged their support to Providence Community Library.

The audience asked dozens of questions and made many statements attesting to the importance of their branch library–for neighborhood children, for teachers, for older people, and for those without Internet access at home.  Speakers noted that the library is located close to two schools, giving students from these schools convenient access to library services.  Where would neighborhood patrons go if Wanskuck Library closed, many wanted to know, as other libraries are too far away to walk to, and there is no direct bus connections to Mount Pleasant Library?

A number of people signed up to join the Wanskuck Friends of the Library group–and one patron volunteered to replace the library’s bulletin board with a bigger and sturdier one.

February 20, 2009

Residents Brave Snow to Attend Olneyville Forum

Filed under: 1 — Patricia @ 12:23 pm

On Wednesday, February 18, about thirty local residents made their way to the Olneyville Library in the snow to hear panelists discuss the future of the branch libraries.  The forum was sponsored by Olneyville Neighborhood Association, the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, and English for Action and moderated by Elizabeth Walsh, English for Action’s Education Director.   PPL Trustee Bill Simmons presented the Library’s proposal for restructuring the library system by reducing the system to Central Plus Four Branches, and PCL President Marcus Mitchell countered with the Providence Community Library’s plan for keeping all nine neighborhood branches open.

Councilwoman Josephine DiRuzzo reminded the audience of the long struggle nearly 20 years ago to reopen Olneyville Library, and she vowed that she was committed to keeping the library branch open in the future.

The audience seemed dubious that PPL’s plan to convert the smaller libraries, including Olneyville, into community centers was viable.  RI State Senator Paul V. Jabour asked a number of questions and offered the help of the Providence delegation to the RI legislator to broker a solution to the library issue.

Fox Point Holds Library Forum

Filed under: 1,Events — Patricia @ 12:06 pm

On Tuesday, February 17, the Fox Point Neighborhood Association sponsored a library forum moderated by local resident Chris Bickford.  Marcus Mitchell and Bill Simmons represented PCL and PPL, respectively, and Councilman Seth Yurdin also participated on the panel.  Councilman Yurdin announced that the Fox Point Branch will most likely remain in the building owned by the Boys & Girls Club, but negotiations are underway to restructure the rent agreement and install an elevator between the main floor (with restrooms) and the library, which is in the basement of the building.

The audience was not receptive to PPL trustee Bill Simmons’ suggestion that Fox Point and the other smaller branches slated for PPL closure be demoted to “community centers,” supported by unnamed sponsors.

February 14, 2009

Knight Memorial Forum Draws Good Crowd

Filed under: 1,Events — Patricia @ 12:26 pm

Save Our Branches sponsored a public forum at Knight Memorial Library on Wednesday, February 11.  Over thirty people attended. 

Deborah Schimberg, a co-founder of Save Our Branches, moderated the panel discussion.  PPL trustee Rob Taylor presented the library’s plan for a sustainable future, while Linda Kushner introduced the audience to PCL’s proposal for keeping all nine branches open and defended the economic viability of the new organization.

The audience seemed more receptive to PCL’s plan to keep all nine branches open than to PPL’s projection that five branches would be downgraded to “community centers” under the current library’s “sustainable plan.”

Mount Pleasant Friends Sponsor Public Forum

Filed under: 1,Events — Patricia @ 12:19 pm

On Tuesday, February 10, the Mount Pleasant Friends of the Library sponsored an informational forum on the Future of the Branches, moderated by Ray Arsenault.  The panelists included Councilman Michael Solomon, PPL trustee Bill Simmons, and PCL representatives Ellen Schwartz and Patricia Raub.  As at the previous forums, each side presented its plan for restructuring the branches in coming years, with perhaps a bit more acrimonious tone between the PPL and PCL presenters than in earlier forums. 

Councilman Solomon pledged, on behalf of the City Council, to keep all nine branches open as libraries, a course of action fervently supported by members of the audience, some of whom felt that the best solution would be for PPL and PCL to join forces.  Neither PPL nor PCL representatives seemed enthusiastic about this suggestion.

Bill Simmons noted that PPL has reached out to the City Council for help in enlisting the aid of area colleges and universities in keeping the smaller branches open as community centers, to which Councilman Solomon responded, “That’s news to me!”

February 7, 2009

Smith Hill Friends Host Library Forum

Filed under: 1,Events — Patricia @ 3:54 pm


On Wednesday, February 4th, Smith Hill Library Friends sponsored a Forum on the Future of the Branches.  There was a large turnout of community members.   Representing PPL were board trustees Rob Taylor and Bill Simmons and also PPL Director Dale Thompson.  Patricia Raub, Linda Kushner, Ellen Schwartz and Marcus Mitchell spoke for Providence Community Library.  Councilman Terrence H. Hassett also participated and endorsed the PCL plan. 

Patricia Raub asserted that the newly formed Providence Community Library would have a governance structure that is community-based and that PCL would keep open all nine branches (including the currently-shuttered Washington Park).  The PPL stated that the PCL’s fundraising estimates were unrealistic, which the PCL denied. 

Bill Simmons stated the PPL was committed to serving the residents of Providence by delivering excellent library services.  He asserted that the decision to close the five branches was due to the annual budgetary deficits and that the board has not made this decision lightly.  He suggested that the five smaller branches could be turned over to the neighborhoods to serve as “community centers.”  He described cultivating a network of creative partnership with local institutes of higher learning and corporations who could fill the budgetary gaps.  Rob Taylor insisted that the PPL would remain partners with the community centers, sharing resources such as grant writing, old books, etc.  Councilman Hassett stated that the “community center” plan was not economically feasible.  The ability to engage in creative partnership with the type of institutions suggested by Mr. Simmons was also called into question by people in the audience. 

Dale Thompson distributed a handout that included a pie chart listing current library usage.  She insisted that the branches slated for closing were the lowest performing according to usage in the system, and implied they were an unjustified drain on the entire budget.  Her pie chart was questioned by many in the audience as being a completely incomplete and unscientific examination of the library system.  The two primary criticisms of her claim were 1) the central library’s high numbers are skewed due to out-of-state usage and do not accurately represent the usage of city patrons, and 2) the library policies that govern branches have contributed to the study’s results of low usage in the 5 branches in question.  One specific point was that the five branches have had their staff and hours consistently cut by PPL’s own policies, which would produce the type of usage results the chart depicts. 

Many community members expressed strong commitment to the branch system and described the negative impact closings would have on the city’s poor neighborhoods. 


Report prepared by Christian Caldarone, Project Manager.
Smith Hill Community Development Corporation



South Providence Holds Public Forum

Filed under: 1,Events — Patricia @ 3:20 pm



Despite the snowy weather some people still came to the forum to learn more about the various plans for the future of the branches.    Sister Ann Keefe moderated.  Councilman Luis Aponte, PPL Trustees Rob Taylor and William Simmons, and PCL President Marcus Mitchell were the panalists.     Following the formal presentations, Rochelle Lee gave a brief overview of  community development and how the library has an impact on the development.  The question and answer period became a little contentious, as the frustration of neighborhood residents over the lack of clarity in PPL’s plan boiled over a bit.

Based upon report by Sister Ann Keefe, St. Michael’s Church

Blog at