By Chuck Van Sluyter, President, Friends of the Barrington Public Library
As our new nation slowly emerged from the American Revolutionary War, thirty Barrington citizens founded the Barrington Library Society in 1806 to create a membership-only library.
Society members included four women and twenty-six men, one of whom was Josiah Humphrey, a sergeant that led the Barrington Guards during the War. Josiah and his wife still lie in the Princes Hill Cemetery adjacent to the Town Hall and the current library. Society members donated and solicited book donations and $1 annual memberships and were able to open the new library in the Congregational Church, where Reverend Samuel Martin served as the first librarian.
The collection favored theology and history and prohibited fiction that “worked abomination and taketh a lie.” Perhaps not surprisingly, this semi-public library suffered a long, slow demise and closed after twenty years.
Fast forward to 1880, when the Town of Barrington started its first free public library. The Town set aside $250 to purchase 212 new books, including fiction. Eager and inspired, town residents donated more than 2,000 additional books to the new library.
Eight years later, in response to popular demand, the Town included space and funds for an expanded public library in the new Town Hall on County Road, which also shared the space with town offices, a high school, the Antiquarian Society, and a one-room jail.
The library’s first full-time director, Emma Staples Bradford, took office in 1889 and oversaw the expansion of the library’s collection from 2500 to over 25,000 volumes throughout her fifty-year tenure. Subsequent Directors Susan Demery and Roberta Cairns added a children’s story hour, a card catalog, phonographic records, and additional space and staff.
Almost 100 years later, Library Director Louise Blalock helped found The Friends of the Barrington Public Library in 1979 with the enthusiastic support of the Barrington League of Women Voters.
It wasn’t until 1984 that the library space we know and love today came into being. Alongside community volunteers, Director Ruth Corkill oversaw the transition from the Town Hall to the newly renovated Leander R. Peck School and transported the entire collection across the parking lot to its new home.
Serving for the majority of the 1990s, Director Joan Schaefer introduced computers and the internet into the library, increased the number and variety of audio-visual materials, and received town support to open the library on Sundays.
Her successor, Director Deborah Barchi, made the Teen Librarian and Community Services Librarian positions full-time and created the Digital Services Librarian position. She also oversaw two major renovations to accommodate the growth of the collection and computer services, including the Auditorium/Gallery meeting rooms, Children’s Room, and Teen Room.
Kristen Chin has been the library’s director since 2017. With a newly renovated second floor, Kris seized the opportunity to expand library programs and services that has made the library a vibrant community resource. Under her direction, a Makerspace was added, a Library of Things, and (soon to be installed) much-needed study rooms.
The Barrington Public Library is now the third most active in Rhode Island. It serves as a key institution in a community long dedicated to excellence in education.