Developmental History of the Library

A study of the civic needs of the Town of West Warwick, promoted by West Warwick Jaycees in 1958, showed the need for a central library. Many townspeople felt that a cultural lag existed in the community which could be greatly modified by such an institution. Furthermore, it was the general opinion that new industry could be more easily attracted into the town with improved cultural facilities. The Jaycees organization, sharing this viewpoint, spearheaded a drive which led to the formation of the West Warwick Library Services Association.

The expenses of filing corporation papers were donated by the West Warwick Jay-C-Ettes, and the association was incorporated in 1961. The incorporators were fifteen citizens of the town and the Past Presidents of the Jaycees. At its first meeting the Association elected the following officers and directors: John J. Kelly, Chairman; Maurice Talbot, Treasurer; Joan Marsella, Corresponding Secretary; Velna Craig, Judge Michael DeCiantis, Irene Demers, Rene Dionne, Robert Forcier, Melvin Green, Lawrence Lamb, Dr. Leo Lemoi, Morris Margolis, Carmine Muschiano, Anna Tucker and Myra Senerchia.

Realizing the enormity of the task ahead of them, as well as the cost of such a library, the group considered, among other means, the sale of membership cards and bricks to raise money for the Library, and furthered consideration of the idea of applying for Town, State, and Federal funds. Legal technicalities forced the Association to seek a commission from the Town Council in order to qualify for application for state library aid which the General Assembly was in the process of appropriating. In February, 1963, a library commission, with Mr. Lawrence Lamb as Chairman, was appointed and immediately addressed itself to securing the passage of state construction aid to the town. One year later Miss Elizabeth Myer, Director, and Miss Jewel Drickamer, Deputy Director, of the Department of State Library Services, addressed the Commission to explain the new State Aid Program.

Other interested groups, such as the Junior Women’s Club, the P.T.A., and the Hebrew Ladies’ Auxiliary, also expressed their support of a central Library. It was at this time that the West Warwick Lions originated a program of giving a donation of 500 dollars annually to the to the Library fund. A delegation of eighth grade students from St. James School called on Governor Chafee to rally support for a central library, and a collection of valuable etchings was given to the group by Miss Lillian Travers.

The most significant development occurred in February, 1963, when an unexpectedly large sum of money was bequeathed to the town by the late millionaire lumberman, Robert H. Champlin. Mr. Champlin willed to the town a sum of $100,000.00 for a memorial library in his name. The initial happiness generated by this truly humanitarian act was somewhat dimmed when further inquiry into library construction costs revealed great escalation since the will had been probated in 1953.

The Industrial National Bank, which had been chosen administrator of the Champlin will, selected Mr. E. Sheldon Spicer to work with the Commission. They immediately started interviewing architects and inspecting existing libraries throughout the state. The firm of Ekman Associates was chosen by the bank to design the building, but whether to plan for a $100,000 or a $200,000 building had not yet been determined. Under Mr. Lamb’s effective leadership, the Library Commission was not to be deterred from its original objective of obtaining State and Federal grants.

The Board of Trustees for the Robert H. Champlin Memorial Library were appointed from the Library Service Commission on February 10, 1965. The seven members who had terms from one to three years are: Mr. Lawrence Lamb, Chairman; Mrs. Anna Tucker, Secretary; Mr. David Brindamour; Judge Michael DeCiantis; Mr. John J. Kelly; Dr. Leo Lemoi; and Mrs. Joan Marsella. Mrs. Irene Demers was the recording secretary.

The final legal block which had prevented the financial wedding of the Champlin Funds with State and Federal Funds was lifted in July 1965, when the court allowed transference of the Champlin bequest to the Town of West Warwick. This action enabled the Trustees to apply for, and to receive a grant of matching funds amounting to $114,000 for the library construction.

The architect was directed to begin designing a $175,000.00 building, and some funds were set aside for the purchase of books. Consideration was given to the annual budget, and the Trustees petitioned the town for a $35,000.00 appropriation. The Council approved this sum, and the taxpayers voted it at the fiscal town meeting.

On February 14, 1966 the construction contract was signed with Frank J. Knott, contractor, and within two days work was underway at the site. A check for $57,000.00 was presented to Mr. Lamb on March 3, 1966 by Governor Chafee, as partial payment of the State Grant. In May 1966 Miss Elizabeth Myer advised the Board of Trustees that a sudden re-allocation of Federal funds would make available additional monies for library construction in the state. Application was made, and in late spring additional money was granted which allowed the Trustees to restore certain alternates which had to be deleted from the original plans because of higher building costs than had been expected.

The Board of Trustees was very active in bringing the planning and construction to a final completion. Some of the activities included trips to a library planners’ seminar, to New York in search of a librarian, and to New Hampshire to attend a Trustee workshop. In addition, daytime meetings were held with various furniture establishments in deciding what furniture and equipment were necessary for the library.

In September 1966 the Trustees were successful in their intense search for a highly qualified library director, when they hired Mr. Paul Crane. Mr. Crane, a Providence College and Simmons College graduate, and a highly recommended member of the Pawtucket Library staff, immediately began to process the 5,000 volumes expected to be on the shelves on opening day. A most gratifying event took place on December 8, 1966, when Mr. Lamb called to order the meeting of the Board of Trustees in this building, and thus started the formal use of the library facilities.

With the opening of the Robert H. Champlin Memorial Library in February, 1967, the Board of Trustees, the West Warwick Jaycees, and the citizens of West Warwick looked forward with pride to using a facility which enhances and brightens the cultural climate of West Warwick.

Expansion and Renovation

By the early 1980s it had become apparent that the busy library was overcrowded. Library Director Jean L. Nash began to plan for an addition to the building, and the renovation of the existing facility. In 1988 the citizens of West Warwick approved a $2,000,000 bond issue for the renovation of and addition to the Champlin Memorial Library. Because matching funds from the State of Rhode Island were available, the actual cost of the project to the taxpayers of West Warwick was $1,000,000.

The architectural firm of Nault Inc., of Worcester Mass. was selected to design the changes. Professional Building Concepts of Pawtucket was selected to perform the construction. In 1990-1991, the existing 10,000 sq ft building was renovated, with the main level being dedicated to childrens services, and half of the lower level assigned to a large community meeting room, and a 15,000 sq ft addition with two floors was constructed. The main level of the new building houses the circulation desk, audio-visual room, adult fiction and paperbacks, and a reading area for new periodicals. It also has the library’s technical service department and administrative offices. The upper level of the addition has space for adult reference and circulating nonfiction collections, study areas and periodical storage.