Greater City Providence

Council Leadership demands Providence Public Libraries convey buildings

Back in the summer of ’09, when the Providence Community Library took over operations of the branch libraries in the Providence library system (i.e. all except for the downtown main branch), the Providence Public Library was supposed to convey control of the branches to the new group. That never happened and has been a headache for the PCL ever since.

For instance, anyone who follows the PCL on Facebook recalls last summer’s almost daily announcements about the Smith Hill and Knight branches being closed due to heat. Since the PCL does not have physical control of their buildings, they have been unable to secure grants to get the HVAC fixed at those locations. So while other cities open their libraries during extreme heat events as cooling centers, we’re forced to close ours down.

This week, City Council President Michael Solomon and Councilor Seth Yurdin are have requested, in a letter to Providence Public Library Chair, Dr. William Simmons, that the PPL convey the buildings to PCL as agreed.

Press Release:

Council Leadership demands Providence Public Libraries convey buildings

Branches would be retained by Providence Community Library
May 5, 2011

PROVIDENCE – Today, Council President Michael A. Solomon and Majority Leader Seth Yurdin sent a letter to Providence Public Library Chair, Dr. William Simmons, requesting the PPL to initiate a process for conveying all seven of its branch libraries to Providence Community Library. PPL trustees agreed to hand over the branch libraries to the City or another non-profit after news broke in 2009 that 5 branch libraries may have to close.

“I commend Providence Community Library for their hard work and patience in dealing with the PPL over the last two years,” said President Solomon. “The PCL took a system that was failing and turned it around, but much work remains and they cannot move forward until the PPL transfers ownership of these buildings. Outright ownership of these buildings ensures Providence residents receive the most effective and efficient delivery of library services.”

“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 Yurdin. “It is in the best interest of the City that these buildings are transferred to PCL so they can be maintained properly and so residents will continue to enjoy access to these services.”

Text of Solomon and Yurdin’s letter:

May 3, 2011

Dr. William Simmons, Chair
Providence Public Library
150 Empire Street
Providence RI 02903

Dear Dr. Simmons:

Three years ago, the Providence Public Library (PPL) announced a plan to close five of its nine branches. PPL trustees publicly agreed that they would convey all seven of the PPL’s branches to the City or to another nonprofit to operate as libraries, should the City find such a reduction in services unacceptable. Indeed, the City rejected PPL’s plan and turned to the Providence Community Library (PCL) to provide library services at all nine branch libraries, including the seven owned by PPL. Since July 1, 2009, PCL has successfully operated the libraries.

However, despite the PPL Board’s pledge to convey the branch buildings to the City as delineated in a February 27, 2009 contract signed by PPL and ratified by the Providence City Council, PPL has failed to convey the buildings to the City. PPL has also failed to regularly meet with the City to discuss the transfer of the buildings as required by the contract between the City and PPL dated June 30, 2009. Such tactics of obstruction must cease so the city can adequately provide the most basic of services.

The failure to transfer the branch buildings conflicts with PPL’s charter which charged the institution with establishing and maintaining “in the City of Providence a public library and such branches thereof as may be advisable and to establish buildings for the same; to perform and furnish library services and… to advocate and promote library services in the state so as to enrich the quality of life in Rhode Island.”

We must remind you that the citizens of Providence have contributed large sums of money for the construction, maintenance, and renovation of these library buildings, both through individual donations and through tax monies allocated to support the Providence Public Library system – especially its neighborhood branches. The libraries belong to the residents of Providence, not to the PPL or any other entity.

PPL has long delayed performing a number of critical capital repairs to the neighborhood libraries. By continuing to flout your obligation to convey the libraries to the City, PPL is putting these buildings at risk of closure. This is unacceptable behavior for an institution that publicly claims to be an essential agency of public education and crucial to the infrastructure of the Rhode Island community.

The Providence Public Library needs to end this policy of obstruction that hinders the delivery of critical city services to Providence residents. As City Council leadership, we call upon you to immediately initiate a process for conveying these buildings to the City on or before May 9th. It is the only action that is consistent with PPL’s mission, legal obligations and stated promises to the citizens of Providence.


Michael Solomon
Council President

Seth Yurdin
Majority Leader

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.


  • This has gone on entirely too long. PPL is not interested in the branches, and seems to want to retain control just to be in charge. I’ve never encountered a public library that behaves so appallingly in my life as a library user and librarian. Public libraries exist for the good of the people, and that’s the way PCL runs things.

    I used to live right next to the Smith Hill branch, and that building was teeming with kids every day. Without the library, the kids would have been hanging out on the street–the street where there are gang shootings and reckless drivers.

    It’s not about winning or losing; it’s not about being in control, it’s about providing library services for the people who need them the most. I commend PCL for taking on the daunting task of running these branches, and for the fantastic job that they’ve done. PPL needs to let go and do the right thing for a change.

  • There is a rally tomorrow for the Providence Community Library, info below:

    Providence Community Library Supporters Rally Thursday for Transfer of Library Buildings

    Message from PCL Friends Groups to Providence Public Library:
    “Turn the People’s Buildings Over to the City Now!”

    The Providence Community Library (PCL) Friends Groups will rally to call the public’s attention to the Providence Public Library’s blatant refusal to transfer the nine neighborhood library branches over to the City of Providence – despite the Providence Public Library’s pledge to do so two years ago when PCL stepped in to rescue those libraries from closure.

    The City’s two-year lease with Providence Public Library expires on July 1. The City has sued Providence Public Library over its failure to properly maintain the buildings and to negotiate the transfer of the buildings in “good faith.”

    Without Providence Public Library agreeing to finally transfer the buildings as promised, PCL can’t secure the grants necessary to support much-needed repairs to the branches – and the future of the community libraries may be in jeopardy.

    • Thursday, May 12, 2011, 5 p.m.
    • Providence Public Library central library
      150 Empire Street, Providence, RI 02903

    Members of the PCL Friends Groups and other library supporters are expected to rally outside the central library.

  • WPRI is reporting that the PCL has sent layoff notices to all staff.

    Their contract requires 30 day notice of termination. The PCL agreement to run the branch libraries runs out June 30th if a new agreement cannot be reached between the city and the PPL. PCL hopes an agreement can be made so that branches can remain open and they can avoid layoffs.

Providence, RI
6:02 am7:28 pm EDT
Feels like: 66°F
Wind: 10mph NW
Humidity: 28%
Pressure: 30.08"Hg
UV index: 0
63°F / 45°F
52°F / 41°F
59°F / 48°F