Cranston libraries celebrate 50th anniversary

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The Cranston libraries kicked off its Golden Jubilee to celebrate their 50th birthday with a special ceremony last Thursday dedicating the program room to their first-ever director, Jim Giles.

During the reception period, a special power point presentation was shown highlighting the history of the several branches of the Cranston system. The presentation recounted everything from polenta parties at the Knightsville branch where Sergio Franchi attended in 1982, to the Oaklawn branch’s book mobile in 1920, all the locations of the Auburn branch and the opening of the Central branch on Sockanosset Crossroads in 1983.

Cranston has had a library in the city in some form since Auburn opened in 1888 on Wellington Avenue. Now, there is the central branch, and five neighborhood branches.

According to the Cranston Library website, the Cranston City Council commissioned a study by Kenneth Shaffer of Simmons College in 1965 to craft recommendations for library development in the city. Based on the Shaffer report and in accordance with RI law, the City Council establishes the Cranston Public Library system in 1966. The six neighborhood libraries were invited to join, and in 1968 the Oak Lawn Library becomes the first of to join. James Giles was appointed the first Library Director in 1968.

Current Library Director Ed Garcia was first to offer remarks and welcome.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes to the Cranston library system over the years,” he said. “From the newly renovated children’s room, to the C-lab digital media space, to our book lit, the mobile reading spot. We also spent a lot of time this year removing barriers for young people and families to use the libraries.” 

Garcia talked about the “Fresh Start” program, in which the library, public schools and the mayor’s office partnered to help add or fix over 2,000 library cards for young people.

He spoke of an initiative where all fines for all children and teen materials would be eliminated, thus making the library “fine free.”

He introduced Senator Jack Reed as a true library champion, and the number one library supporter in Congress.

“I’m particularly honored and privileged to pay tribute to Jim Giles,” said Senator Reed. “What an extraordinary gentleman.  A library is no longer a place to simply get a book. It has made to make connections; with the world, you can find access to ESL materials, you are part of a community here. Jim is a great public servant; he inspires all, helps all. I am certainly proud to be here tonight to say ‘thank you, Jim.’”

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung acknowledged all the library staff and directors for all their hard work in making Cranston libraries a nationally ranked system.

“We are here tonight to honor the founding father of Cranston libraries,” he said. “The library is about community. It has grown into so much more than a place to do homework. All of this is a testament to you and your dedication to the library system.” 

After his comments, Mayor Fung presented Giles with a special citation from the city. John Cory, former assistant director for CPL, also offered remarks.

“Today we are here to honor Jim Giles,” he said. “In thinking about this, I couldn’t but help to reflect how we got here.” 

He gave a brief history of how the Cranston library system came to be. The library collection was started with books from prisons and the Library of Congress’s overstock. He mentioned names of people who were involved in the initial process of getting the library started.

Jim Giles spoke from his heart about how much the library means to him and how much he looked forward to talking with everyone who was there.

“The transformation that has taken place is outstanding,” he said. “The amount of imagination that went into the children’s room, the level of user-friendly materials, but mostly the staff. They are the heart and soul. Cranston has a great more of wonderful library years ahead. I look forward to seeing all the excitement to come. And, I thank every one of you here tonight for your continued support.”

Garcia made a special presentation to the longest employee of Cranston libraries, Dottie Swain. She started as a shelver at the William Hall branch in 1973.

Garcia, who has been the Director of Cranston libraries since 2012, has fond memories of the early days.

“My best memories of working at CPL are opening the new children's room at Central and working at the reference desk when where I started my career,” he said. “I received great satisfaction from helping our patrons find the information they needed.” 

As for his hopes for the future, they are pretty big.

“I just signed a new four year contract as the director in March, so I hope to continue to evolve library services for the changing needs of our communities,” he said. “We want to continue to remove barriers from using the library such as our fine free initiative. One dream in my career I have is to one day build a new library building.”

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