Library History - Boone Street

The Board of Trustees, with Chair Elizabeth Rodman, Mrs. E. Knight Whiford, James V. Koper, Edward O. Ekman, Jr., Phebe Wilson, Kenneth Hogberg, and Arthur G. Brown, rallied public support for a $1,300,000 bond issue, approved in November 1972. Matching state and federal funds to pay half the cost were secured, and planning for the new facility was underway.

Six and a half acres of wooded land off Boone Street with a view of Wickford village across Academy Cove was purchased from Paul Wilson. Once his family had a house there, but only the cellar hole remained. The Architects Collaborative of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was hired to design the building. Their concept of a modern brick and glass structure in historic Wickford caused some opposition, but the project proceeded on schedule. The library at 55 Brown Street was closed for two weeks to make the move. Patrons were asked to borrow as many books as they could from the old library and return them to 100 Boone Street when the new library opened.

More than three hundred people turned out on a Sunday afternoon in December 1975 under threatening skies for the dedication and a tour of the new facility. The St. Bernard Braves Drum and Bugle Corps performed a marching concert. Trustee James Koper was Master of Ceremonies. Trustee Kenneth Hogberg stood in for Trustee and Building Committee Chairman Edward Ekman Jr., who was in Washington to support library legislation before the House of Representatives. The Rev. Charles Fountain, pastor of St. Bernard's Church, gave the invocation, and the Rev. Peter Spencer of St. Paul's Church gave the prayer of dedication. State Rep. Harold Cutting presented a flag, and members of American Legion Post 12, which had donated the flagpole, led the flag raising ceremony. Editor Rudolf Hempe of the Standard Times gave the library microfilm copies of the newspaper from its founding in 1888, a gift from the Wilson Publishing Company. With dignitaries looking on, Keith Fisher and Kim Marshall, first graders with their first library cards, had the honor of cutting the traditional ribbon in front of the main entrance.

In the spring the Wickford Lions Club constructed Lions Memorial Park next to the library overlooking the cove, and Ye Kings Towne Garden Club created a sunken garden in the old cellar hole.

In 1974 the federal government closed the Naval Air Station at Quonset Point and cut back activities at the Seabee Center. Economic uncertainty prevailed in North Kingstown, so the timing of the new library proved fortuitous. Residents took pride in their beautiful new building, which was there to help villagers face the struggle of rebuilding the local economy. When Elizabeth Rodman retired from the Board of Trustees, Mary Whitford, a long time board member, took over as chair; and Albert C. Henry Jr. was a new appointee. Teddy Lager retired as director in 1979. After Mary Whitford's death later that year, Albert Henry succeeded her as chairman of the Board of Trustees.

When Deborah Bowerman Brennan became director, her objective was to use the library to its best advantage. Brennan, a graduate of Wellesley College with an MLS from URI, had worked as cataloger to improve access to the enlarged reference, adult nonfiction, and local history collections. She was interested in library programming and began regular monthly adult programs and library exhibits and displays. She started the newsletter, "Among Friends", which was distributed to library patrons and members of the Friends of the Library. The library was awarded two incentive grants from the Department of State Library Services: one funded the slide tape show, North Kingstown: An lllustrated History; the other funded South County Authors, a compilation of biographical sketches of writers associated with our area. An important gift to the library was the file of genealogy records of George Lawrence and his mother Anna Lawrence. H. Paul Lefebure joined the professional staff in the Young Readers Department. He had previously been a reference librarian at the Lincoln, Rhode Island, Public Library.

Brennan resigned as director in 1985 and went to work for the Department of State Library Services on statewide library programming grants such as "What a Difference a Bay Makes," a series of programs focusing on life around Narragansett Bay. Susan Berman, in addition to her responsibilities for reference, nonfiction and special collections, took over adult programs and the editorship of Among Friends. She has established the library's reputation for excellence in these areas.

Shirley Payne, at that time Coordinator of Readers Services, was chosen as director. Payne had studied at Barnard College, Columbia University, and at URI, where she had earned her masters degree in library science. Immediate concerns when she became director were complying with new state regulations for library accreditation including filing a long-range plan with the Department of State Library Services; joining CLAN, the newly formed Cooperating Libraries Automated Network; and automating the circulation system.

The Long Range Plan was completed by a committee of Trustees and staff. The task of securing the budget increase for the automation project fell to Shirley Payne and Albert Henry. The task of managing the automation project - supervising the hardware installations and overseeing the inputting of all of the library's records fell to Susan Aylward, who took over technical services when Regina Leeper retired. Aylward had begun working in the library as a high school student and continued while she went to college and graduate school.

The entire staff, reinforced by volunteers, were barcoding and inputting. Zebra stripping, under Aylward's supervision, was the major thrust of work along with public service. With an LSCA Data Conversion Grant from the Department of State Library Services, 50,000 titles - about two thirds of the collection - and 12,000 patron registrations were entered. The terminals, hardware and software, were bought with a grant from the Champlin Foundations, which has been most generous to libraries. To take reserves on books and to give the circulation staff some freedom from answering reference questions, a Reader's Advisor desk was established in the adult fiction section.

The tenth anniversary of the library's move to 100 Boone Street was celebrated with an open house and concert of baroque music by Affetti Musicali, held on the main floor. The concert was so enjoyed that music became a regular part of library programming. The North Kingstown Arts Council with funding from the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts began sponsoring "Sunday Musicales at the Library." The library's first piano was the gift of Pat and Will Kane. Subsequently the Friends of the Library raised money for a new piano, and the original gift was donated to Wickford Elementary School.

Special collections in the South County Room under the leadership of Susan Berman continued to grow with many gifts and purchases. There were additions to the Merrymount Press collection, books published by Daniel Berkeley Updike's small but prestigious Boston publishing house; the Eichenberg collection - Fritz Eichenberg, an internationally recognized artist and illustrator, lived in Kingston; and the collection of works by cartoonist and watercolorist Paule Loring of Wickford, the gift of his family. The genealogy collection was enhanced with gifts from the North Kingstown Genealogical Society, and Miriam B. Lawrence gave the library her large collection of miniature books. John A. Wilson Sr. and his wife made a generous donation for children's books. The Weaver's Guild gave a hand woven Friendship Quilt and many local artists have contributed paintings. Several annual exhibits, much enjoyed, were the fall exhibit of weaving by the Weaver's Guild, the spring exhibition of art work from the North Kingstown schools, and before it got its own building, the annual Member's Show of the Wickford Art Association. The Frosty Fun Run, a road race sponsored by the South County Striders, started and finished at the library and always attracted a crowd in January.

The annual (now semi-annual) Book Sale by the Friends of the Library continued in the library meeting room. The Friends of the Library have helped in many ways, underwriting the costs of programs for children and adults (these are not covered by the town budget) and purchasing audio-visual and other equipment. Gabriella Adams, former first grade teacher and the principal of the Wickford Grammar School, was treasurer of the Friends for thirty-two years. The Friends of the North Kingstown Free Library have been giving their ongoing support for over forty years.

By 1990, the library collection had nearly 100,000 items, including books, magazines, government publications, microforms, and audio-visual materials. The North Kingstown Free Library became a full depository for state documents. Also for the convenience of the patrons notary public service was added. Young Readers' Librarian Paul Lefebure now also managed the music collection, which had changed from records and tapes to CD's and talking books, and had built a very popular collection of videos. For many years the library borrowed films from the Rhode Island Library Film Cooperative based at Warwick Public Library. During 1990 more than 10,600 persons attended library programs. More than 3,660 visited the library in a typical week, or over 190,000 people annually. Annual circulation had reached 274,000 items borrowed, with 26,500 reference questions answered.

In recognition of the administrative aspects of their jobs, their hard work and important contribution to the library, three members of the professional staff were made assistant directors: Susan Berman, Assistant Director of Reference and Adult Services; Susan Aylward, Assistant Director of Circulation and Technical Services; and Paul Lefebure, Assistant Director of Young Readers and Audiovisual Services. Jane Lussier followed Linda Vancini as head of circulation. Phyllis Cullen became children's librarian, and Linda Caisse reference librarian.

When Albert C. Henry Jr. retired as chairman of the Board of Trustees, John DiMartino, a board member of long standing, took the position. He died soon after, and Henry was reappointed to fill his unexpired term. Patricia Carlson, who had been treasurer of the Board, became chair when Henry again retired.

Donna Dufault was hired as library director when Payne retired in 1991. Formerly assistant director of East Providence Public Library with undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Rhode Island, Dufault had spent fifteen years as a library media specialist at Cranston Public Schools. She was at the time a member of the American Library Association Council and subsequently served as Chair of CLAN. She was also the President of the Rhode Island Library Association, and was later appointed to the Library Board of Rhode Island.

When she came to North Kingstown, the library increased its hours and for the first time was open on Sunday afternoons. The old card catalogs were closed, as this information can now be accessed by computer. Technology flourished in the library. At circulation the old date cards were replaced by printed transaction slips, and public access terminals for browsing the catalog were installed throughout the library. Civic groups continued to use the library for their meetings. Literacy volunteers tutor their students at a quiet table downstairs. Dufault enlarged the volunteer program at the library, and initiated Food for Fines at Christmas time to help the North Kingstown Food Pantry care for the needy. As the statistics, programs, and community participation, it was clear that the library was due for another expansion.