By Kendra Lolio
WEST WARWICK — Community members joined together Saturday to celebrate the West Warwick Public Library’s successful 50 years of service to the local community. On Feb. 20, 1967 the institution opened its doors to the public for the first time, marking the beginning of a period of great progress in the town. Local officials made appearances throughout the day, including town manager Fred Presley, Congressman James Langevin and Chief of Library Services for the RI Department of Administration Karen Mellor. Langevin presented library director Tom O’Donnell with an honorary citation to commemorate the milestone.
In a brief speech, Mellor recalled some of the history behind the library, noting the original group of individuals who served as the Directors of the West Warwick Central Library Association and their dedication to creating a centralized library in town.
“Back in 1958 some forward thinking individuals realized that the most important institution that West Warwick did not have and really needed was a library,” Mellor said. “Over the course of almost 10 years they persevered to find the funding and the support to make their vision come true because they realized that having a library in town would help attract industry, and it would raise the quality of life for the people living here.”
Mellor said that when the library first opened in 1967 it received one of the first library construction grants offered by the state as well as federal funds through the Library Services and Construction Act. The state contributed half the cost in the 1990s to renovate the building, more than doubling its size to what stands today.
“This really now and then is the most important institution in the community,” Mellor said. “West Warwick has always been a beacon through good times and bad with the programs and services that you’ve you provide to the community. The state is very proud to have been a partner to the library through all these years.”
Congressman James Langevin congratulated the town on what he called “an incredible milestone.” He noted that when Rhode Island last held a constitutional convention voters approved an amendment calling for the continued mandate and support for libraries which remains in the constitution to this day.
“It’s very clear that when voters in Rhode Island approved that amendment, and they did not have to, they saw the value of libraries and their importance to our communities and families,” Langevin said.
He added that he felt libraries would always be relevant and worthy of investment despite the changing technological landscape.
“I believe that libraries are more important now than ever because they are the embodiment of our highest ideals,” he said. “Our belief that every person has a right to knowledge, that every child has the right to learn and that information should be free and available to all who seek it out.”
Langevin called libraries “the great equalizer” of communities, drawing in all walks of life, and said that librarians and library staff will always be necessary components.
“Today more than ever we need an informed electorate with the right information,” he said. “We need people who help guide us through the mess of alternative facts and fake news to find the truth. This is why libraries and librarians will never be irrelevant, because access to knowledge will always be relevant and worthy of investment.”
The day was filled with festivities including Burkina Yacouba, who performed African tribal music on the Kora, a traditional African instrument with 21 strings. Face painting was provided by Kathi Martey with Kathi’s Creative Faces and music was provided by Joe’s Backyard Band and the Superchief Trio, a jump-blues and swing band. The Chorus of Kent County Women’s Auxiliary performed a number of pieces and led the community in a special rendition of “Happy Birthday” before cutting into a book-shaped cake provided by Matos Bakery.