Thursday, May 15, 2008

Grace Paley Would Understand

I arrived at the Smith Hill Branch of the Providence Public Library today at a few minutes before 10:00 a.m. On Thursday's it is supposed to open at 9:00 a.m. There was a sign on the door explaining that because of lack of staff, the branch would open at 10:00. Already there were two other people waiting. Fifteen minutes after ten, the door was not unlocked. We soon learned that the branch would open at an "indeterminate" time.

The Library Reform Group of Providence (Rhode Island) has been struggling, on behalf of all patrons, to defend the "Public" elements of the system. The smaller branches have lost funding and experienced decreases in hours. One branch literally experienced the loss of its roof. (Washington Park Branch). Please check out the link below for detailed history and analysis.

I am the daughter and granddaughter of library workers.

Because I have encountered the unexpected temporary closings of many of the branches, I decided to make a few phone calls. I phoned the "Central" Branch downtown, but the recording reminded me that they were closed. I succeeded in speaking with Derek Puerta who works for Senator Whitehouse ( Mazel Tov, Derek, on your recent graduation!) and with Serena Conley, who works for Providence's Mayor, David Cicilline. By sheer luck, I reached Ed Fitzpatrick from the Providence Journal. I told him the numbers outside the door were growing--a mother with a young child, an elder or two...He told me he'd speak to an editor. I left a message for John Lombardi, my city councilman.

Andy Dickerman, writer and photographer, arrived. He took pictures, got my name and that of another person waiting...

Just as John called me back, a lovely woman arrived with a key. She had received an email from KathyEllen Bullard, who oversees all of the branches. Kathyellen's direct # is (401) 455-8022.
Her email address is

My issue is not with the librarian on vacation or the worker with a sick child. My issue is with a Board of Trustees who would rather fight with City Hall than support needs of the "outlying" communities.

I type this from inside the Smith Hill Branch which will alas close in 8 minutes for lunch; with one more staff person present, it could remain open. Thanks for reading this!


Anonymous said...

I agree with you but my beef is also with City Hall who wants the library to remain private so that it can shirk City responsibility for it as it has for many years. I don't hear them offering to, say, match an increased endowment draw or something.

Other cities have actually built up and invested in their libraries instead of letting them get to this point. It's like trying to privatize social security and pushing growing health insurance costs onto businesses and the average Joe--the little guy always has to foot the bill.

The City and the library play the blame game and meanwhile a vital resource is dying.

Still, think about it--the City and its citizens benefit from thriving libraries and museums yet don't want to pay. Let's just blame Library governance and point toward their endowment--isn't that like blaming people for being poor or making poor investment choices? Yes, I think the governance sucks as well, but this issues has gotten so oversimplified in the media--to the serious benefit of the City and the detriment of everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Yeah--let's demonize the fire chief and superintendent next.

Anonymous said...

Your comments fall directly into the category of the "blame game" you so forcefully lament. I would point out that poor people do not have endowments to tap in times in financial desperation, that is why they are poor.

I do agree that the problems with the PPL are not all a direct consequence of inaction on the part of the Board of Directors; however, there has been a distinct and consistent lack of vision and leadership exhibited by this body.

I think that people who are outraged by this whole situation need to follow Nomi's example and make noise about this issue to whomever will listen. I work for the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation and we are trying our best to get the word out about library branch closings and the larger financial issues. We need to bring pressure to the parties involved in order to work toward a solution.

I would add that if anyone requires more evidence in order to feel outraged about this situation, an examination of the financial records yeilds the unfortunately predictable result that the poorest areas of the city have the lowest operational budgets for their branches and face the greatest threat of closure. This is grim news for all of us.