Library groups find coexisting a struggle; relations remain strained 16 months later

Sixteen months after control of Providence’s public libraries split, relations remain strained between the two nonprofit managers of the 10 libraries, many of which the city says are in disrepair. More

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Library groups find coexisting a struggle; relations remain strained 16 months later

PBN PHOTO/FRANK MULLIN
POWERFUL FORCE: Marcus Mitchell, president of the Providence Community Library group, reads to children at a Star Wars literacy event at Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Ave.
Posted 11/8/10

Sixteen months after control of Providence’s public libraries split, relations remain strained between the two nonprofit managers of the 10 libraries, many of which the city says are in disrepair.

On July 1, 2009, the nonprofit Providence Public Library handed over control of nine branches to the city. The city then turned over management of the branches to the newly formed nonprofit Providence Community Library. Since then both organizations have attempted to find their footing.

“It was a seismic shift for the Central Library and the truth is, it resulted in some dramatic changes here,” said Tonia Mason, a spokeswoman for the Providence Public Library, which retains control of the Central Library on Empire Street.

Most dramatically, the 135-year-old organization went from managing 10 libraries to one. The change led to cuts in staff (most of whom found jobs at PCL), the loss of city financial support that shifted to PCL and a new focus on statewide services and partnering with state agencies.

The annual operating budget for the library was cut in half, from about $9 million to roughly $4.5 million. The Central Library is now closed on Wednesdays in an effort to reduce costs. The changes have come as the library’s foundation has seen its assets plunge from $41.3 million in 2007 to $25.8 million at the end of June as the economy faltered.

“Most of that first year has been really just trying to regroup,” Mason said.

At the branch libraries, the PCL has been building an organization from scratch. Formed hastily in 2008, the group emerged after PPL threatened to close some branch libraries and lay off staff because of financial issues.

Marcus Mitchell, president of the Providence Community Library, said the accomplishments of his organization since the handover “would make any Fortune 500 company jealous.” PCL has assembled a 20-member governing board, hired a director, extended hours, boosted programming and negotiated its first contract with its employees. And, Mitchell says, PCL has done it with just $4.3 million.

“The first year was really [spent] stabilizing the system, hiring our senior staff and working the seamless transition and putting key elements in place,” Mitchell said. “What we want to do now is really focus on branding our libraries as the go-to place.”

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