Harris set to become ‘Next Generation’ library

Harris set to become ‘Next Generation’ library

Library Director Leslie Page unloads new devices to be used in a new project documenting residents’ stories. The library won a grant from the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services and the Office of Innovation to create a project that will engage the community.

WOONSOCKET – City residents should prepare to share stories about life in Woonsocket and their hopes for the city’s future. A new online library exhibit will document local history and serve as a tool for future city planners.

Woonsocket Harris Public Library has won the “Studio Rhode Next Generation Library Challenge,” a grant competition run by the Rhode Island Office of Library and Information Services and the Office of Innovation that asked public library directors across the state to submit a unique plan to transform their space from a traditional facility into a community hub more suited to the 21st century.

Assistant Director Margaret McNulty worked with Director Leslie Page to develop an idea for the Clinton Street facility and came up with the “digital creation studio,” a space where local redients will create videos documenting their lives in the city – past and present – and their hopes for the future as part of a multi-generational project called “My Woonsocket Life.”

“We thought the best way to serve the public was to let them speak about what it’s like to live in Woonsocket,” said McNulty.

The videos will then be uploaded to a public iTune view, where they’ll be accessable from any device, anywhere, creating an updated image of Woonsocket with digital media.

The directors had to complete an intensive application process to win the competitive grant, offered to all public libraries in Rhode Island, and learned in March that they’d been chosen.

“We were very, vey excited,” McNulty said.

The Studio Rhode Award will supply the library with Apple technology, professional services, technical support and additional resources from the state and other partners to implement the “next generation library project.” Some 40 dedicated iPads have been delivered to the Woonsocket branch.

Library staff has been training to use the new devices and they have produced a movie trailer inviting people to take part in the project, in which participants will be asked three “narrow” questions about the past, present and future of the city. In addition to promoting the as yet unreleased trailer on social media, library officials plan to partner with local nonprofit organizations to recruit and record stories from some 200 participants.

The project mirrors a part of the Smithsonian Main Street USA Project, through which officials from the Washington, DC-based museum collect, curate, and publish an online collection of community-sourced stories from small towns across the country. The Woonsocket library will use the Smithsonian Institution’s and MuseWeb Foundation’s Storytelling Toolkit as a reference source and eventually, the city stories will be added to the larger database.

In Woonsocket, the resident feedback will be considered in the development of a new Comprehensive Plan.

“They (city planners) will use it to see what residents want for the future of Woonsocket,” said McNulty.

The project will roll out on Monday, June 19 and must be completed by Sept. 1 according to grant guidelines. The new database, however, will remain open, so residents can continue to upload stories. The iPads, which will be dedicated to creating My Woonsocket Life through the project end date, will eventually become available for general circulation.

The Studio Rhode Next Generation Library Challenge aims to help libraries across the state explore new uses of space, technology and partnerships to address community needs and transform into next generation learning hubs. McNulty points out that the grant funding will help the library to draw in the community to learn new skills, while creating a collective identity for Woonsocket.

It’s a win for the city that was celebrated by both local and state officials.

“Libraries enrich communities, providing resources that can truly change lives,” Gov. Gina Raimondo said. “My grandfather learned English at his local public library, and it was hearing about the closure of libraries around the state that inspired me to get involved with public service. I’m excited to see how Woonsocket Harris Public Library transforms the community.”

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said, “The city of Woonsocket has a rich cultural heritage, and I am proud that Woonsocket Harris Public Library was chosen for this unique opportunity to share and build upon that. Our institutions of education and learning, like our library, are critical to celebrating our past and shaping our identity as a community. This investment in our library fosters innovation while providing opportunity to our residents.”

More information on the project will be released in the upcoming weeks, when a website dedicated to the library project, found at Studio Rhode Woonsocket, goes live. Visit www.innovate.ri.gov/studiorhode for more.

Library patron Barbara Lafferty, a 45-year resident of Woonsocket, holds one of the new devices to be used to create a digital studio for the My Woonsocket Life project.