Rhode Island Library Report
CRANSTON, R.I. – (Nov. 25, 2013) – Even standing room was at a premium today as some of the state’s top politicians crowded elbow-to-elbow with library advocates to mark the opening of the Cranston Public Library’s newest – and tiniest – branch.
The occasion was the ceremonial opening of what is now the Arlington Branch, located in a wing of the Cranston Senior Center, 1064 Cranston St., and which was formerly the “Arlington Reading Room,” before a six-month renovation that was completed three weeks ago.
The reconstruction, funded by a $198,000 federal grant, created a 543-square-feet space that is home to a range of modern library services, including new Internet-connected computers and a fresh collection of children’s and adult books.
Still, it’s a small home, as several dozen library supporters and reporters discovered as they packed the branch’s main room alongside U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, who recently announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor.
Edward Garcia, director of the six-branch library system since 2012, acknowledged the branch’s diminutive footprint, but he said it will make possible big steps in providing new services to neighborhood children and teenagers, as well as older adults who come to the senior center.
“We created, although a small space, a very useable space,” Garcia said.
Among the new programs will be one in which graduate library students from University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media will work with neighborhood young people.
The Arlington library dates to 1895. Its building was demolished 25 years ago and replaced by the senior center, with space reserved for what became the Arlington Reading Room. But the configuration did not allow full library services, Garcia said, and the shelves were stocked only with donated books rather than those purchased by the library system.
According to Garcia, former director David Macksam and library trustees worked with Reed in securing the grant in 2006 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for a new building to house a full-service branch, but suitable quarters could not be found.
With time running out, since the federal grant was to expire in September, 2013, Garcia recommended that the library remain at the senior center, swapping some space with the center’s gift shop, and completely renovating the reconfigured library area.
Kathy Turcotte, the library assistant who oversees the branch, said the new quarters, with large windows overlooking Cranston Street, is a “night and day” difference from the former reading room, which she said seemed dark.
The renovated branch actually reopened Nov. 4, with the official program scheduled today.
Remembered as a forceful advocate for a revitalized branch was Edward Costa, a library trustee who died before the project was realized and whose widow, Roberta Costa, replaced him on the library board. Said Mayor Fung about Mr. Costa:
“I know he’s looking down at us, really beaming with pride with the fact that we are going to be able to help so many people in this community.”
“We all know our libraries aren’t just utilized by Cranston residents, they are utilized by people throughout the state, and this is a wonderful atmosphere where there is another resource for people throughout the state to come to,” Fung said.
In a humorous moment, Garcia started to introduce Congressman Langevin as the next speaker. But in a stage whisper, Langevin suggested that Capitol Hill protocol indicated that Senator Reed go next.
“Okay,” said Garcia, smoothly shifting gears, “I want to introduce Senator Reed….”
“Age has its advantages,” quipped Reed.
Reed, too, acknowledged Mr. Costa as a "driving
Recognized nationally for his sponsorship of major federal library legislation, Reed recalled his own debt to libraries while growing up in Cranston.
“My first involvement with Cranston libraries was in the 1950s, when I walked up the steps to the Auburn Public Library at the corner of Woodbine and Park Avenue and went in there and found a whole world of information, ideas,” he said. “And, frankly, without that, I could not have been able to move forward in life.”
Reed noted that libraries have advanced their roles beyond that of being only book repositories, with their public broadband computers allowing anyone access to the Internet, and services expanded to helping unemployed workers seek benefits and jobs.
“By the way,” the senator added, “when we help libraries, we’re not only being right-minded, we are being pretty smart economically, because they are multipliers in terms of economic value, as well as community spirit and community relations.”
Finally getting his turn, Langevin also spoke about the powerful effect libraries can have on children.
“I think you all remember that time when we got our first library card, and it gave you entree to a whole broader world,” Langevin said. He noted that libraries serve the whole community, regardless of income or status.
“I’ve always looked at libraries as the great equalizer, because it didn’t matter your socioeconomic background,” the lawmaker said.
One of the impacts of the Arlington Branch remaining in the senior center complex is the opportunity for young and older generations to sit side by side, as they both benefit from branch’s up-to-date information technology.
Indeed, the branch’s Kathy Turcotte said that it serves the Gladstone and Arlington elementary schools, as well as the Hugh Bain Middle School.
Karen Mellor, acting state chief library officer, noted in an interview that older people are sometimes on the wrong side of the “digital divide,” and with the branch’s new computers, they have increased opportunities to learn about new technology.
Nancie Paola, co-director of the Cranston Senior Center, said she finds that elderly people are quick learners, even using the slow and out-of-date computers that have been available at the center. People who used to come to the center but have moved into nursing homes, she said, stay in touch with her via e-mail.
And she predicted that computer-savvy senior center patrons are likely to be drawn to the library’s powerful new and speedier computers.
“They don’t want old and slow,” Paola said.