Providence Public Library embarks on new chapter with major renovations

Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence Public Library is fully open to the public again and patrons will notice a completely different look inside.

Now that the 85,000 square feet of space has been fully renovated, the walls of the library are holding stories impatiently waiting to be told.

“I think the most dramatic thing that we did was actually to put this new grand staircase, so we cut a giant atrium up through all three floors and it was really amazing,” Director Jack Martin said. “So now when you walk in, you feel this incredible height and just openness and light that comes into the building.”

Martin said the $28.5 million renovation project started back in 2015 when they were told upgrades were needed to stay compliant with fire safety.

“People feel a lot of ownership over the public libraries and we have done a lot in the past 7 years to rejuvenate what we think the public library could be,” he said.

On the ground level, there’s a modern industrial-looking, minimalist workspace which replaced the dropped ceiling design of the late 1900s. The original Providence Public Libray signs have also been epoxied over as tabletops.

The library also has a new state-of-the-art dropbox system where you put the book either inside or outside the library, and it sorts the book for you.

Martin estimates the bookshelves hold about 1 million books, with even more resources online.

Upstairs, there is a bright orange room that holds newspaper records dating back to the 1700s. The room is illuminated with windows that were once partially, or fully hidden, by bookshelves.

“When this building that we’re standing in, which was built in 1953, the 1900 building was not considered to be en vogue, so this building was built out 20 feet toward Washington Street to block any views of the 1900 building from downtown Providence,” Martin explained.

The main theme of the library is showcasing everything the building offers — even opening up an old wing of the building to the public.

“This is former special collections storage. It was not open to the public, so if you were not a librarian, you were, actually, not allowed in this space<” Martin said. “It’s one of my favorite spaces in the building because it connects the old building to the new building.”

The library is still looking for funds to pay for the remaining $7.5 million of the project. The state paid $9.2 million and the rest was paid for by private funds, endowments, and grants.

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