Providence Public Library Starts Transformative Renovation

Jul 24, 2018

The Providence Public Library has announced that its building at 150 Empire St., opened in 1954, is being transformed. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Chuck Hinman talked to PPL Executive Director Jack Martin about this ambitious, multi-million dollar project.


The Providence Public Library (PPL) has embarked on what is called the state’s largest-ever public library renovation. PPL Executive Director Jack Martin said it's an 83,000-square-foot project, estimated to cost $25 million, and designed to transform the library’s 1950s addition on Empire St. into a library for the 21st-century. According to Martin, the project grew out of a new strategic plan adopted by the library's Board of Trustees in 2014.    

"We're calling it 'Think Again,'" said Martin. "We want people to think differently about what a public library can be. It's a reimagination of the activities that happen within the Providence Public Library."

The thrust of the project was to redesign the existing library to better fit the vision of the library as an education center for the community, using the best technology to engage the public. As part of this vision, Martin said the library will offer courses, seminars and cultural programs. The physical layout of 150 Empire St. is also being changed to accomodate the vision.

"One of the major changes we're making to the building is we're cutting a three-story atrium through all three floors of the Empire building," Martin said.

The atrium will feature a grand staircase to lead people to the different parts of the library. Martin acknowledged that patrons often have expressed confusion about where things were in the library. Some visitors have compared the low-ceilinged, dimly-lit stacks, with their metal stairs, to the labyrinthine layout of a submarine. That will change, said Martin.

"We're installing glass everywhere" he said. "So you'll actually be able to walk in and see the books, for a change."    

Exterior changes to the building include enlarged windows on both the first and second levels and the replacement of the glass blocks in the stacks with clear glass, an effort to achieve the physical embodiment of the "Think Again" vision of a library more aware of the surrounding community, and vice versa.

"As you come off 95 on the Broadway exit, you'll be able to actually see people inside of the stacks, reading," Martin said. "And people in the stacks who are reading will be able to see what's going on outside."

It's estimated that the project will take 18 months to complete. The Providence Public Library will be open, at a reduced level of service, during the renovation.