Just 25 years after Foster’s founding, Theodore Foster opened his personal library to the town, thereby establishing the very first free lending library in Rhode Island. For more than 200 years we have continued that tradition of community and culture, eventually establishing not one, but two public libraries. A library is the single most democratic institution in a community. All you need is interest to enter a library— no one cares about your religion, your politics, or your economic worth. The library is, and will remain, a place where all are welcome equally and without bias. However, as the Foster Public Library and the Tyler Free Library exist today, we are, unwillingly, discriminating against the physically disabled in our community and that is not acceptable.
Our libraries must change. The Foster Public and Tyler Free libraries do not meet federal requirements for handicapped accessibility– a requirement for state funding. State funds make up one-third of the annual library budget, and without that support, the libraries will be forced to close. The libraries have received waivers in past years from the state, due to their historic status, but those waivers have always been contingent on the libraries’ finding a way to become accessible. Our timeline for compliance with ADA guidelines is growing shorter every year. Modifying the existing libraries would involve installing elevators at each building, creating parking areas, and much more that would be cost-prohibitive and shrink the usable spaces inside the libraries. The libraries have had no room to expand their collections for years now. There is no dedicated quiet space for study, and the basements serve as our meeting rooms but are prone to flooding and water damage, resulting in unhealthy conditions. Parking is severely limited and any program with 50 or more attendees must be held outside or we violate fire code.
A new library is the only way to preserve this beloved town resource and keep the library vibrant and relevant for generations to come. The time to act is now.
In 2013, The Libraries of Foster’s board of trustees agreed to plan a new central library that would deliver 21st century library services to the community for generations to come. We have secured the services of Union Studio Architects from Providence, whose most recent projects include the new Tiverton Library, to design the facility, and we have hired a fundraising consultant to assist with writing grants and soliciting major gifts.
Thanks to the generosity of Foster residents Michael and Ann Valentine, The Libraries of Foster have been given a piece of land at the site of the proposed Simmons Crossing project on which to build the new central library. This site is located at the intersection of Routes 6 and 94, a heavily traveled and highly visible part of town. The building will be constructed in a style that reflects the town’s architectural heritage and, at 9,000 square feet, will be more than double the libraries’ current size. Ample, safe parking will be available with a dedicated drop-off area for school buses in front of the library.
Libraries have proven to be valuable partners in mixed-use developments, because they draw foot traffic to the area but don’t compete with retail. Potential businesses have more confidence in a site that already has an attractive and established civic presence. And just as the library will have a positive effect on Simmons Crossing, Simmons Crossing will have a positive effect on already established businesses along RT 6.
You can still expect personal service from our staff, the Wednesday morning story hour, and the annual Easter egg hunt… but we will be able to offer you so much more. There will be a large community room that can be used by all: we anticipate booking the room for art shows and classes, lectures, business and non-profit meetings, and town government meetings. A shared community workspace and tech lab will give residents an opportunity for hands-on learning and innovation. We will also provide resources for business owners and a room dedicated to children’s programming. There will be quiet study spaces; a room just for teens, with Wi-Fi, computers, and gaming consoles; and a space for families to settle into a comfy chair in a cozy nook where they can sit and read together.
Our architects will be engaging the public in open forums in the spring of 2014 to present their concept for the new library. The Libraries of Foster will hold public meetings in the summer and fall of 2014 to educate and engage residents and get their input on services, materials, classes, and events they want to see in their new library. Suggestion boxes will go up at both library locations.
We can do it. Foster has a long history of pulling together and supporting its schools, libraries, and other public services. Together, we can build a library that serves everyone, from toddlers to teens to working families to seniors; a library that provides the tools and space we need to create, work, and collaborate.
Please join us in this exciting and critical venture.