Publishing/Writing: Insights, News, Intrigue

09/30/2011

A Lionhearted Library


A sign at the front desk solicits donations to help run the struggling Adams Memorial Library in Central Falls, R.I.

We’ve all read stories where the protagonist stands up against overwhelming odds, never gives up or stops searching for the way to victory … Well, I’ve just learned of a grand old library in Central Falls, R.I. that is crying out with every fiber “never say die!”

This from Dan Barry’s This Land column in The New York Times:

The Money May Be Lacking, but a Library Refuses to Go Quietly

If you were to assemble a city from scratch, you would need a few things to make this place of yours more than just a functioning municipality; to make it a community. So, along with a City Hall and a few schools, you would have a building where an elephant king named Babar rules, where it is a sin to kill a mockingbird and where everyone from Homer to Snooki has a story to tell.

That is, you would need a library.

But in the losing battle of the square-mile city of Central Falls to avoid bankruptcy this year, parts of what made this municipality a community became expendable, among them: the Adams Memorial Library, a handsome Greek Revival building that for a century has been an intellectual refuge amid an urban expanse of triple-deckers and old mills.

In July, a state-appointed receiver closed the library to save money. The six staff members lost their jobs, while residents lost access to the statewide network that allowed them to borrow from the libraries of other towns. The handsome building went dark, its books unread, its videos unwatched, its computers unavailable to those looking for jobs.

But some people refused to close the book on a place that deeply mattered to this financially poor, ethnically rich city. Central Falls has more than enough boarded-up buildings; no need to add its library too.

The library’s survival hinged on the fact that while its operating costs are covered by the city, the building itself is owned by a private trust. Seizing the moment, the trust’s board of directors used this enforced downtime to make repairs in the old building and to install a library card system for Central Falls alone.

A month later, on Aug. 1, the Adams Memorial Library reopened with limited hours on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Its reference and checkout desks are now staffed by a rotating band of volunteers, including Jerauld Adams, 41, the board chairman of the library trust, and Thomas Shannahan, 68, a board member and former director of the library. They hung a sign on the front door that said, with some defiance:

“Welcome to YOUR library.”

Mr. Shannahan, bearded and wiry, ran the library from 1989 until 2004, when he resigned amid some political strife; in Central Falls, it seems, there is always political strife. He grew up a couple of blocks from the library, in a building that included the family residence, a rooming house, his father’s bar and a cocktail lounge called the Nut House — at one time a “jumping joint,” he said.

The bar and cocktail lounge are gone, as are the Holy Trinity Catholic church and parochial school that Mr. Shannahan attended as a boy. But the library is still here, he said with pride, as he walked past several patrons hunched before computers aglow with Facebook chatter.

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