The Rhode Island Statewide Library Program was activated July 1, 1964 in response to a heightened interest in statewide library cooperation and the upcoming federal legislation that became the Library Services and Construction Act (LSCA). The construction aspect of the LSCA was considered an intrinsic part of improving library service, and motivated local efforts to supplement federal seed money. The 1965 Annual Report from Rhode Island to the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare Office of Education states that “the outdated, inappropriate, inconvenient, and inadequate housing of public libraries became acutely real upon examination.” By October of 1964 the State Plan for Construction had been submitted to and approved by the U.S. Office of Education.
The Public Library Construction Reimbursement Program began in 1965. That year twenty-six libraries made serious inquiries regarding library construction, and eight Library Construction Projects were reviewed, approved and processed, using the full Federal allotment of $100,000, the State Construction appropriation of $100,000, and an additional reallotment of Federal money. The state program, which at the time was one of only two state programs providing funds for library construction, was continued in 1966. In 1967 the appropriation was increased to $150,000 and the Rhode Island library law was amended to permit funding over a twenty-year period.
The 1965 projects were mainly additions and renovations, with the exception of the Hope Library in Scituate. Winn Hall, the original home of the new Department of State Library Services, was also one of the initial recipients of both state and federal money. In 1966, the Robert H. Champlin Memorial Library in West Warwick was the first major new library built under the program, receiving both state and federal funds. (View the complete list of library projects funded under the Public Library Construction Reimbursement Program.)
The Public Library Construction Reimbursement Program expanded considerably over the years, with state aid for library construction projects increasing from $675,000 in the 1960’s to over $15,500,000 in the 1980’s. In 1990, the program was put on hiatus as a result of state budget cuts during the state credit union crisis. That same year only half of the state aid funds for library services were disbursed to cities and towns. The Jamestown Philomenian Library, which was completed in 1992, was the last library construction project approved before the program was suspended.
At an April 15, 1998 ceremony at the Newport Public Library, Governor Lincoln Almond issued Executive Order 98-4, which reinstated the program of state aid for public library construction and capital improvements as specified in Rhode Island General Laws, section 29-6-6. To determine the number of projected public library construction projects and their estimated costs, the Office of Library and Information Services asked each public library to complete the Public Library Facilities Survey and Capital Budget Forecast in the spring of 1998. An updated summary of current capital budget projections (as of February 2003) is included in the construction packet. (see Current Projects)
The Executive Order also charged the Office of Library and Information Services (OLIS) to prepare rules and regulations for the program. OLIS staff made recommendations to the Committee on Public Library Construction established by the Library Board of Rhode Island. The committee reviewed the proposed regulations for the program, sent copies to the public library community to review, and held a public hearing on the proposed regulations on October 15, 1998 in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act. The Committee made its final recommendations to the Library Board of Rhode Island, which approved the proposed regulations at its December 7, 1998 meeting. The priorities and allowable-per-square-foot costs for projects, as well as the proposed annual cap on construction reimbursement payments, were reviewed and approved at the Board's January 11, 1999 meeting. The Office of Library and Information Services began accepting formal applications for reimbursement funding in the spring of 1999. The first project agreement signed after the program was reinstated was the Cumberland Public Library addition and renovation, which was completed in May 2000.
The 1966 Rhode Island Department of State Library Services Annual Report to the U.S. Office of Education regarding LSCA funds reported:
Construction funds have opened new horizons for many towns and they have sparked citizen awareness of the library’s role in today’s life. The construction title is an integral part of our effort to advance library service on a statewide basis.
Four decades later this is still true, and the Public Library Construction Reimbursement Program is an integral part of OLIS’ efforts to advance library service. Since the program began in 1965, the state of Rhode Island has provided $52 million for 91 library construction projects. The federal government, under the Library Services and Construction Act, has provided slightly over $3 million dollars for local projects. Local governments, charitable foundations and individual benefactors have contributed an additional $68 million toward library construction projects around the state. From 1965 to 2012, more than $123 million has been committed to public library construction projects; the state of Rhode Island has provided more than 42% of the total.