by Joseph Nadeau
CENTRAL FALLS - State Rep. Shelby Maldonado, (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls), knows how important a public library can be to an economically distressed community like her own.
In a community like Central Falls, the library serves as a resource for those seeking to build their work skills, communication abilities, or even to access the internet, Maldonado explained on Tuesday.
But when Central Falls was struggling with serious fiscal problems and under the control of a state-managed receivership several years ago, the library was one of the local services cut severely to help balance the community's budget.
The library even closed for a time and only made it back in to operation thanks to the work of a group of dedicated volunteers and support from some noted Hollywood figures such as Alec Baldwin and Central Falls native Viola Davis.
Baldwin gave the library $15,000 in donations over two years and even stopped by at City Hall to collect a key to the city from Mayor James Diossa. Davis also supported school programs in the city and drew additional contributions from her friends in Hollywood.
Keeping this library running takes money on an annual basis and while the city's Adams Memorial Library has returned to regular operation with a limited staff, Maldonado said there is more the facility could do for its community if additional funding were to be made available.
Maldonado's solution is contained in a bill, H-5836, she filed in the House and hopes to see approved in the current session of the General Assembly. The bill was heard in House Finance and is currently being held for study, including the fiscal impact on the state budget.
Maldonado's bill would have the state reimburse seven distressed communities the costs of their Ocean State Libraries (OSL) assessment. The OSL charges allow libraries to make use of sharing services that provide their local users with a wider range of materials than a single library could offer.
But for the distressed community, the fees are also a burden limiting what the library may offer in other local services, according to Maldonado.
By reimbursing the fees, the state would be supporting an important community resource and in some cases possibly even keeping a library open.
"This amount of money would make a great impact," Maldonado said. "These libraries need to be open and if anything, these communities need the help to keep them open," she said.
For Central Falls, Maldonado's legislation would return an estimated $19,000 to the library, and in Pawtucket that amount would be approximately $65,000, she said.
Woonsocket would see $54,000 returned, Providence approximately $207,000, West Warwick $40,000 and North Providence, $48,000, according to Maldonado.
The state assistance could allow a library to offer new afterschool programs for kids or even hire some additional staff to replace those lost to budget cutting, she noted.
"It is meant to help communities that are struggling to keep their libraries open," Maldonado said.
The legislation would require a $650,000 fiscal commitment by the state and Maldonado said she would like to see that made on an annual basis.
"It is one of those things that kids would benefit from and it would create great opportunities for learning," she said.
photo: State Rep. Shelby Maldonado
Read the full article in the April 8, 2015 edition of 'The Times'