Libraries are often among the most cherished buildings on city and town landscapes, but some venerable structures need costly repairs or expansion for new computer systems and programs, as well as provide facilities and access for handicapped patrons.
Balancing these needs is the subject of a panel discussion entitled “New Libraries in Old Buildings,” one of 23 programs scheduled for a day-long conference organized by the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Preservation Works,” and one of the sessions will discuss the impact of state historic preservation tax credits, which would be reinstated under legislation proposed in the current General Assembly session.
According to the commission, before the tax credit program was closed to new
Dr. Jonathan Prude, associate professor of history and American studies at Emory University, will be the keynote speaker, discussing the impact of 19th Century industrialization on communities in areas like the Pawtuxet and Blackstone river valleys.
West Warwick was chosen as the site of this year’s conference in connection with the town’s celebration of its one-hundred year anniversary. Dr. Prude’s talk will be in Church of St. John the Baptist in Arctic Village.
The library session will feature Laura Marlane, executive director of the Providence Community Library; architect Clifford Renshaw; and Kathryn Taylor, executive director of the association that runs the Westerly Public Library. Brian Jones, a co-founder of the Library Report, will moderate the discussion.
Marlane will discuss the nine neighborhood libraries managed by the Providence Community Library, particularly two with pressing renovation needs, the Knight Memorial Library, built in 1924 by the family of the founder of the Fruit of the Loom textile company, and the Smith Hill Library, constructed in 1932. The Smith Hill library will be upgraded with the help of a $475,000 grant awarded the PCL last year by the Champlin Foundations.
Renshaw is the architect who oversaw a more than $450,000 renovation of Willett Free Library in the North Kingstown village of Saunderstown, one of the state’s smallest libraries, which was the subject of a Library Report story this past January. Willett’s 1904 building was designed by Christopher Grant LaFarge, a prominent architect, who designed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. (A separate conference session will focus on stained glass windows in Newport created by LaFarge’s father, John LaFarge). Renshaw served several years as historical architect for the Historical Preservation Commission.
Taylor in 1998 became executive director of the Memorial and Library Association, which maintains the Westerly Public Library and Wilcox Park. A $6.5 million project to renovate the library’s interior was completed in late 2011. The original building dates to 1894, with additions built in 1902, 1906 and 1992.
Information on the full conference program can be found at the historical commission's Website.
Reservations, at a cost of $40 per person, can be made by mail in letters postmarked April 17 or earlier. Registration in person can be made on the morning of the conference.