Greater City Providence

City announces agreement to maintain Providence Community Libraries


Announcement at Smith Hill Library. Photo from Mayor Taveras’ Facebook page.

At a press conference this morning on Smith Hill, the Taveras Administration announced an agreement which will allow the Providence Community Library (PCL) to gain control of their branch library buildings and initiate much needed renovations of the buildings. The announcement ends a dispute between the PCL, the Providence Public Library (PPL), which maintains the main library on Empire Street, and the City of Providence.

The dispute had left employees at PCL uncertain about their future, community members uncertain about the continued operation of thier neighborhood libraries, and PCL unable to acquire loans or grants to fix and maintain their buidlings.

Taveras Administration Reaches Agreement to Save Libraries
City will lease neighborhood branches for 20 years under mediated settlement

PROVIDENCE, RI – The administration of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras has reached an agreement with the two independent organizations that operate the libraries that serve city residents that will preserve city branches and protect every neighborhood library in the city.

Under the agreement mediated by retired Superior Court Judge Mark Pfeiffer, the Providence Public Library (PPL), which operates the downtown library and owns seven of the city’s nine neighborhood library buildings, will transfer the seven buildings to the City as a 20 year lease-purchase, at the end of which the City will own the buildings outright.

The City will make an initial payment of $250,000 to PPL from funds held in escrow during the dispute over the future of the libraries. Additionally, the City will make 18 annual payments to PPL in the amount of $264,000, beginning in 2014. The total cost of acquiring the seven neighborhood libraries will be $5 million. The assessed value of the seven buildings is approximately $11 million.

“After months of working closely with the PPL and the PCL, we’ve forged an agreement that will enable us to keep all of Providence’s neighborhood libraries open, once and for all,” said Mayor Taveras. “Today’s announcement is a big victory for the thousands of children and adults who use and rely on their neighborhood libraries every day. I thank Judge Pfeiffer for his assistance in mediating this agreement, and I commend the PPL and PCL for working with my administration to find a solution to the challenges that have threatened the future of Providence’s neighborhood library branches for far too long.”

The agreement, which resolves a long-standing dispute that threatened the future of neighborhood libraries throughout the city, is a big victory for the thousands of children and adults who visit their local library to study after school, participate in adult education programming, borrow books and media, use public computers and enjoy the many resources and programs available there.

“This marks an important milestone for library users throughout the City,” said William S. Simmons, Chairman of Providence Public Library Board of Trustees. “It provides an amazing and unparalleled framework for access to books, computers, and materials whether it be at the Providence Public Library with its deep collections, or at community libraries that serve City neighborhoods.”

The agreement also sets the stage for fundraising and foundation investment to pay for renovations to several neighborhood branches.

Providence Community Library (PCL), a not-for-profit organization that has run the city’s nine neighborhood libraries for the past two years, will continue operating the neighborhood branches. Providence Public Library (PPL) will continue to own and operate the main library on Empire Street that serves as a statewide resource.

“I want to commend the Mayor and the City Council for working so diligently to support the neighborhood libraries and to resolve this issue for the benefit of all Providence residents,” said Marcus Mitchell, Providence Community Library Board President. “Library supporters have rallied around this issue because they recognize the critical role that libraries play in our city. The neighborhood libraries remain a ‘go-to’ community resource, and we’re proud to continue providing these vital services to residents across the city.”

Unlike most cities across the nation, libraries in Providence have not been owned or operated by the city. The PPL operated every library in Providence until 2009, when the system became unsustainable under the existing structure. In response, a group of volunteers established PCL to manage all nine neighborhood libraries, and the city shifted their management and the $3.6 million annual city appropriation that helps pay for them to PCL.

To help with this transition, PPL donated more than $1 million in branch materials, books, tools and agreed to lease to the City the branch buildings for $1 a year. That two-year lease agreement expired in July. The city got the two sides to extend the lease arrangement while a final agreement could be mediated by Judge Pfeiffer.

The Providence City Council was closely involved in efforts to save the city’s library branches, and praised the agreement.

“I am overjoyed to hear that the PCL and PPL have reached an agreement that provides for the continued delivery of library services throughout our neighborhoods,” said City Council President Michael Solomon. “These buildings are the cornerstones of learning in our City and this agreement ensures that children throughout Providence will have access to the tools needed to be successful in school and tomorrow’s workforce. I’d like to thank all parties involved for their time and commitment to this cause.”

“Countless children and families rely on our library branches not only for books, but for internet access, computer classes, ESL courses, and many other important services as well,” said Council Majority Leader Seth Yurdin. “It is in the best interest of everyone that these buildings are kept open and maintained properly so residents can continue to enjoy access to these services.”

The seven libraries included in agreement are the Rochambeau, Mount Pleasant, Knight Memorial, Olneyville, Smith Hill, South Providence, and Wanskuck branches. The Washington Park Library building, which is owned by the City, and Fox Point Library building, which is owned by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Providence, were not included in the agreement.

Jef Nickerson

Jef is Greater City Providence's co-founder, editor, and publisher. He grew up on Cape Cod and lived in Boston; Portland, Maine; and New York before settling in Providence. In addition to urbanism, Jef is interested in art, design, and ice cream. Please feel free to contact Jef if you have any question or comments about Greater City Providence.


  • It’s about time. Thank you Mayor Tavares, Councilman Yurdin and Council President Solomon for continuing to push this issue and make PPL do the right thing.

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