Public Forum on Library Branches at Rochambeau 1/15/09

2009 January 27
by sgrabelle


On January 15th, representatives of the Providence Public Library, the Providence City Council, and the fledgling Providence Community Library met at Rochambeau Library for a public forum to answer questions from the community about the fate of several of the city’s library branches. The Providence Public Library has recently submitted a proposal intended to sustain the city’s financially troubled library system by removing from PPL’s governance five of the city’s nine branch libraries. The PPL proposal would save, at reduced hours, the Central library located on Empire Street; Rochambeau; Mt. Pleasant; Knight Memorial; and South Providence. The city of Providence has the option to accept the proposal and take over the remaining branches or to assign the stewardship of the five branches to a third party. The funding currently provided by the city to PPL to maintain those branches would shift as well. The non-profit Providence Community Library, incorporated by the Library Reform Group explicitly to provide the city with a viable third-party option for governance of the endangered libraries, countered PPL’s plan with a proposal that would see PCL take the reins of each of the nine branches.



In attendance for PCL were principals Marcus Mitchell and Linda Kushner. In Kushner’s opening remarks, she outlined the PCL plan, which calls for a less bloated administrative structure and promises more effective fund-raising. Drawing on her experiences sitting on the Friends of Rochambeau Board of Directors, she exposed also those elements that she believes have eroded the relationship between PPL and the branches and library patrons throughout the city.



PPL had, in a printed proposal distributed to everyone attending the forum, suggested that the city and the respective communities could transform the shuttered branches into “community learning centers.” Representing the City Council, Ward Three Councilman Kevin Jackson cited the fiscal crises plaguing the city and the state and cast considerable doubt on whether the city would be financially able to maintain the branches jettisoned by PPL’s proposal. Rob Taylor, a member of the PPL Board of Trustees, gave many concerned patrons in attendance their first opportunity to evaluate PPL’s perspective first hand. In Mr. Taylor’s statement, he recounted PPL’s struggle to meet budget requirements, referring to failed “financial assumptions,” PPL’s increasing pension obligations, and that the Library has been operating beneath a significant deficit. With great ardor, a “Sustainability Committee” established by PPL’s Board of Trustees chose between a proposal that would have maintained all nine branches and closed the Central Library and the selected proposal, which removes five of the branches from their care.



During a vigorous question-and-answer session with the gathered patrons, librarians, library employees, and neighbors, a sense of anxiety prevailed. Many attendees swung between an acrimonious distrust of PPL’s intentions and overt uncertainty that PCL could immediately deliver the level of library services currently provided by the nine branches. PCL principal Marcus Mitchell reminded the forum, however, that “any branch closing is a reduction in services.” With five branches in danger of closing and a city unlikely or unable to take the reins of those locations and reopen them, it may be that a fledgling organization created to save those branches may be preferred, even if that organization struggles out of the gate, to a city dotted with locked libraries and reduced services and hours at the remaining branches and at the Central Library.


Post by Gary Mercure, Friends of Rochambeau Library Board member

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