Warwick Public Library
In 1960, Warwick like so many Rhode Island cities and towns, was a multi-library city with seven small community libraries open a total of 80 hours a week. The Apponaug Free Library, a sturdy brick building next door the City hall, was open three days a week for a total of twelve hours. The Conimicut Public Library, a stucco building on Beach Avenue, was open two days a week, a total of nine hours. The Lakewood Free Library, on the second floor of a wooden building erected as a town hall in 1904, was open on Wednesdays only, a total of five hours a week. The Norwood Public Library, an attractive brick building run by a husband and wife team, was open two days a week for a total of ten hours. The Oakland Beach Library, housed on the upper floor of a store badly in need of repair, was open two days a week, a total of nine hours. The Old Warwick league Library in the Warwick Neck section, was in a former church as was supervised by a school librarian for three hours out of the ten it was open. The Pontiac Free Library, the most attractive and the newest building (built in 1956) was open the most, five days a week for a total of twenty-five hours.
None of the libraries opened before 1:00 PM. Only two were open on Mondays and one on Thursdays. None had children’s librarians. Few were open enough hours to provide service at times convenient for children or businessmen to use. Only three were open a few hours Saturday afternoons. These neighborhood libraries were independent of each other, but had formed the Warwick Library Association which met with some regularity to discuss local library matters.
Formerly a fairly rural area, Warwick was experiencing a population explosion, having increased its population 59% since 1950. (When recruiting staff in 1964, the library director said that Warwick was the fastest growing city in the northeast.) Its work force had become more industrialized and more professional. It had a new high school (opened in 1954) which had one of the best school libraries in the state. Recognizing that the burgeoning community needed more public library service, Mayor Horace E. Hobbs formed the Central Library Study committee in 1961 to study the feasibility of the creation of a central public library. This committee strongly recommended that a central library be built and that the existing libraries form some sort of an alliance with the new library to coordinate resources.
In September of 1961, the Warwick Junior Women’s Club voted that their Community Improvement Project for the year would be to work for a central library for Warwick. The club targeted two major groups whose library needs were not being met: the business community; and preschool children. This group of dedicated women was so successful in educating the citizens of Warwick that in November 1962, a $500,000 bond issue for the central library was approved. This, plus the $310,000 federal grant Warwick received, guaranteed the construction of the new library.
Early in 1963, the Warwick Library Building Committee was appointed to study possible sites for the building. Between April and July the committee had considered several locations and passed their recommendations on to the Warwick Library Building Commission which was appointed in late August. By September the commission had narrowed its search to five places: land owned by St. timothy’s church on Warwick Avenue; the Potter Farm in Hoxsie; the Spring Green School site, city-owned land near Wildes Corner, and land in the Meadowbrook area. At the same time, the commission began interviewing architects. In all, they interviews twelve architectural firms before selecting Robinson, Green & Beretta of Providence. In November the commission settled on the site, a 6.6 acre lot on Sand Lane which was purchased for $27, 075. The ground breaking was set for December 10, 1963 with completion expected by December 1964.
On the state level, a study of Rhode Island’s libraries had been made in 1963 by John A. Humphry, Director of the City Library, Springfield, MA. This study was initiated by educators and library leaders who had convened at Brown in University in May 1959 to discuss cooperation among the various types of libraries in the state. Humphry’s study recommended that the seventeen multi-library communities each establish a central library. It also recommended that the city/town officials either designate one library to receive the state grant-in-aid or require that the independent libraries function as a coordinated system . The Central Library Study Committee’s report also suggested that a central library could work with Warwick’s independent libraries to coordinate resources. In 1964, the General Assembly passed a bill that called for the formation of a council in communities having more than one library. The Warwick library Council (formerly the Warwick Library Association) was formed in June 1964. This was the library climate in Warwick in 1964.
On June 1, 1964, C. Vincent Bleecker, librarian of the Peabody Institute Library in Danvers, MA, was hired as director and began planning for the library in a temporary office in Aldrich Junior High School. From a partitioned end of a corridor, Mr. Bleecker and his secretary sorted gift books and ordered new ones. When the winter winds popped the plastic hastily tacked over the windows, he moved his staff of four across Post Road to a store front at the Warwick Plaza. Community support for the library was evident by the fact that use of the store, rent free, was made possible by the agent for the shopping center’s owners. In a cinder block store front, using a desk made from a wooden door supported by boxes of catalogues books and huddled next to the furnace that roared in his ear, Mr. Bleecker continued to plan the new library. By February 1965 the building was ready for occupancy, though workmen were still very much in evidence, and the staff (then numbering eight) moved in.
Warwick was very proud of its new library and rightly so for it was one of two public libraries in the United States to receive the 1964 Award of Merit for Design by the Community Facilities Administration. A gala dedication was planned, but was held up by slow furniture delivery until May 2, 1965. Featured speakers were Governor John H. Chafee and Mayor Horace E. Hobbs. The day was so sunny and warm the audience, seated on folding chairs in the parking log, slowly sank into the asphalt! (The dents remained until the parking lot was resurfaced several years later.) Concern for children’s services was evident in the printed program which listed the professional staff: the director, assistant director, and the children’s librarian. Concern for the public was also apparent for the library was open week-days 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM and Saturdays 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM, a total of 69 hours a week.
The library opened with 6700 books on the shelves. By the end of the first week, very few were left and the number of picture books remaining in the Children’s Room could be counted on one hand. Mr. Bleecker’s report to the trustees for the period ending May 29, 1965 shows that of the 6,359 people who had registered that first month, 3,523 were children and of the 7,365 books 4,740 were juveniles. There was a need for library services to children in Warwick.
In the meantime, the Friends of the Library, an offshoot of the Warwick Junior Women’s Club, had formed in the fall of 1963 and busily set about raising funds for the new library. One of their first ventures was a fashion show held at the Rhode Island Yankee Restaurant on September 30, 1965. $300.00 was realized and presented to the trustees to be used for stereo equipment. The following year to the day, September 30, 1966, they held a wine and cheese reception at the Warwick Country Club. This proved to be such a successful event it became an annual affair. That first year, $500.00 from the wine and cheese reception was turned over to the trustees.
In September 1966 the library became one of the first, if not the first, public libraries in the state to convert to the Library of Congress Classification System. With 27,000 books already classified in Dewey, it was an undertaking not to be viewed lightly. The reclassification project would take about five years to complete.
Also in 1966, the librarian of the Pontiac Free Library retired. In order to meet state standards and to continue to receive state grant-in-aid, Pontiac would have to hire a professionally trained librarian, or join in a system with the Warwick Public Library. Pontiac’s board chairman approached Warwick’s director about the possibility of working out such a system and in February 1967 an agreement was approved by both Boards of Trustees.
Less than two years after it had opened, Warwick was expanding its role as a public library. In January 1967, the library was designated a government depository. Then in July it was named a regional library, covering all of Kent County and Cranston, Scituate and Foster in Providence County. At the same time, Warwick received $10,000 from the Department of State Library Services to house and distribute 16mm films for the newly formed Rhode Island Library Film Cooperative.
The following year, the trustees of the Norwood Public Library approached Mr. Bleeker about joining the Warwick Library Sysstem. On May 9, 1968, Norwood became a member and the next day a new borrower’s card, imprinted “Warwick Library System: Norwood Public Library, Pontiac Free Library, Warwick Public Library”, was introduced.
Sunday, May 3, 1970 the Friends of the Library sponsored a Reception and Open House to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the opening of the library and to honor past and present trustees.
In 1971 a circulating toy collection was started. Educational toys and puzzles, housed in canvas bags, circulated for three weeks from the Children’s Room. This popular service continues to date [editor’s note: discontinued in May 1996]
The Humpry Report of 1963 recommended that a survey be made to determine the relationship of the central library, once it had been built and was in operation, to the independent libraries. This survey was done by the Arthur D. Little Company of Cambridge, MA in 1970. The Little Report recommended that the Warwick Library System establish no more than two branches to be selected from Apponaug, Conimicut or Oakland Beach, and that the other independent libraries be closed. Among other recommendations:
1. Remodeling should take place within the physical building to relocate the Administrative Offce, the film Cooperative and staff work space to the mezzanine so that space on the first floor could be expanded for public use.
2. The Children’s Room should be enlarged.
The report was made public in 1971 along with a directive from the Department of State Library Services to consolidate the independent libraries by June 30 or lose the state grant-in-aid. As a result of this directive, the Warwick Library Council, made up of librarians from each of the eight libraries and their board chairmen, began monthly meetings to resolve this issue. By March the central library decided to form a federation and invited Apponaug, Conimicut, Norwood and Pontiac to join. Norwood was the first to accept the invitation. In May Apponaug voted to join and on June 25th Conimicut indicated its willingness to join. The Pontiac Free Library, which had been the first to form a system with the central library, now voted not to federate and to “go it alone”. The Old Warwick League Library, The Lakewood Free Library and the Oakland Beach Library phased out their operations as the year progressed.
At the same time Warwick libraries were federating, the central library trustees were concerned with another part of the Little Report: the recommendation to enlarge the Children’s room and to relocate some of the offices. As early as February 1971 the trustees decided a separate structure for the children’s department would solve the problem. They envisioned the new children’s wing as being built at the rear of the main portion of the library by an enclosed corridor. In March there was talk of a bond issue to enable this construction. By December, however, the city officials did not feel they could back a bond issue at that time, so plans for an addition were dropped.
In September 1972, after a very short illness, Mr. Bleecker died. The search for a new director went on until the following January when the trustees appointed Richard W. Robbins, director of the Pawtucket (RI) Public library, new director to start February 19. Mr. Robbins had to tackle the problem of space immediately and as early as April 1973, at the suggestion of the Planning Department, contacted Mayor McCaffrey about the possibility of being included in the recreation bond issue them being considered.
In May 1973 the trustees created the Vincent Bleecker Collection in memory of the library’s first director. This circulating collection of framed painting and lithographs had been amassed by Mr. Bleecker over the years and contained many original works.
Another circulating collection he had been interested in starting was one of small animals. While the Children’s Room had had live animal exhibits during his lifetime, animals were not borrowed until early in 1973. They were loaned with cages, good pellets, wood chips and instructions on care. This proved to be a very popular service and continued until 1985.
Pawtucket’s Sunday hourse were so popular, Mr. Robbins wanted to try the same in Warwick. In 1974, the library opened Sundays on an experimental basis for the months of April and May. The esperiment was such a success that in September the library became the second public library in the stae to have regular winter Sunday hours; 2:00 – 5:00 PM.
Also in April plans for building renovations were presented and a request for a $750,000 bond issue was made. The drive for passage of the bond was tied into the 10th anniversary celebration in May. In June the bond issue was approved and the trustees applied to the Department of State Library Services for a matching grant.
In March 1976 the Pontiac Free Library became an affiliate of the Warwick Public Library. The agreement between the two libraries offered Pontiac the benefits of the regional system, yet let the library remain financially independent, still maintaining its building, staff and Board of Trustees.
The remodeling of the central library began in July 1976 with a “Brick-breaking Ceremony” followed by a “Hard Hat Hoopla” in November that served to show the public the extent of the renovations. In January 1977 work began on the first floor, necessitating closing the library for four months. The Apponaug Brnach took over the rold of the central library during this time, with the reference department moving its operation to three card tables and two telephones in the basement of the branch. The library reopened for business May 1 with some furniture and rugs yet to be installed. The remodeled building was dedicated with an Open House Sunday September 11, 1977. Of particular interest to the public were the three meeting rooms named for the three small libraries that had phased out their operations and had turned their assets over the Warwick Public Library. Two rooms (Oakland Beach and Lakewood) had been redecorated the the other (Old Warwick League) had been created during the renovations.
For some time patrons had been requesting that evening hours be extended. With a grant from the Department of State Library Services in September 1979, the library extended its closing time to 10:00 PM for a period of eight weeks. During this trial time, patrons were asked for their reactions by completing a questionnaire. Based on this survey of patrons’ needs and the costs involved, the trustees decided to stay with the original schedule (much to the relief of the staff!)
Staffing had been a problem for years. In 1975 the library really benefited from the CETA program and had been able to add an outreach service and an A/V department as well as additional staff through this program. When the major funding ceased in 1979, the outreach and A/V services had to stop.
September 18, 1980 the library celebrated its 15th anniversary with a reception and Open House. As part of this month long celebration, the Friends of the Library had a book sale on the library grounds. The sale was such a success it became an annual affair until the number of books donated necessitated in its becoming a semi-annual event.
The library’s popularity increased to the point where, in late 1981, it was so noisy with teen-age patrons no one could study or do any kind of serious work. Several remedies to absorb the noise were sought, but to no avail. Finally the trustees decided a security guard was the only solution. A part-time guard was hired to work 7:00 – 9:00 PM Mondays through Thursdays. The library suddenly became a safe and sane place to visit once more.
About this same time the library lost the rest of its CETA employees due to cuts in funding. It struggled along for a year but finally, in July 1982 was forced to close Friday nights at 5:00 PM. Citizens of Warwick were not without library service, however, as the Conimicut and Norwood branches still offered Friday evening hours.
In October 1983 the trustees dedicated the Dromgoogle Computer Center, located in the Children’s Room, in memory of Walter T. Dromgoogle a former trustee. Children and adults alike signed up to use the Apple IIe computer, working with their own programs as well as using those owned by the library.
1984 was a year of great change: in March, Mr. Robbins informed the trustees of his decision to resigh, effective the end of July. His resignation was accepted with great regret. A nation-wide search resulted in the appointment of Douglas A. Pearce, director of the Vestal (NY) Public Library, to start August 27, 1984. Mr. Pearce, like Mr. Robbins before him, was faced with building problems immediately: a leaky roof and deteriorating end beams. Also, plans for computerization were still being formulated and left for Mr. Pearce to implement. A grant from the Champlin Foundation was awarded to the library for hardware needed for computerization and the library joined CLAN (cooperating Libraries Automation Network). A reception for Mr. Pearce was held at the library Sunday, December 2.
The library’s 20th anniversary was celebrated May 5, 1985 with an Open House and a fantastic cake, a 300 pound replica of the building, made by Toll Gate High School’s Culinary Division. The staff began entering the collection into the computer and the Warwick Public Library moved into the twentieth century with a vengeance.