The Nicest Place in Rhode Island: Maury Loontjens Memorial Library in Narragansett
NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2019 FINALIST
"Staying Positive Against All Odds"
As the people of this seaside town fight to save their library, the librarians go about their business, serving the community.
Narragansett’s public library is so unassuming that you might drive right by it if you didn’t know what you were looking for. But to the 15,000 people who make this seaside town their home, the library is where the knitting club meets, high schoolers hunker with tutors, preschoolers sit wide-eyed at story time—and where it’s impossible to miss how gracious the staff is in the face of an existential threat.
Recently the town council voted to slash the facility’s budget in half and put on hold plans for a much-needed new building for the 10,000 people who visit a month. The library may lose its eligibility for additional state funding, putting five full-time and 14 part-time staffers’ jobs in jeopardy. The fight has gotten ugly at times, with heated arguments at town council meetings. Through it all, the librarians have stayed above the fray, continuing to smile, making the library an oasis of civility even as a battle rages around it.
“We have no say in the politics,” says library director Patti Arkwright. “So we just go with the flow. We’re just happy to serve the people who use our library.”
“As soon as you come through that door, they make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world,” says local resident Suzan Amoruso, who nominated the place. When her grandchildren visit from out of town, the first place they ask to go is the library.
Supporters drop in regularly with boxes of chocolates and plates of cookies for library staffers, who regularly go above and beyond the call of duty. Like the time when a woman told a librarian she was lonely and longed for a dog. A short time later another patron mentioned plans to move and the need to rehome a dog. The librarian connected the two parties and a match was made.
At a recent council meeting, one woman stood and gave the crowd a history lesson about the town that has been her home for more than 90 years. The library, she argued, is a reflection of Narragansett’s core values kindness and civility, no matter what you’re facing. Before she sat back down, she said simply, “This is who we are. We are this library.”
As the current town council attempts to dismantle the library, the librarians continue to make it a center of the community. Residents are gathering around to save the library.
In a very outdated space, the librarians continue to run very current and interesting programs. They speak out at every town council meeting to try to convince the present town council that a library is not just a place to check out a book. They stay calm and positive.
The first place my grandchildren want to visit is the library. Other residents in Rhode Island say, “I love your library.” The librarians there are so nice, so helpful.
I had a very sentimental chair that my mother sat in. When it had to be given away the library was the perfect place for it. I can visit it and when I see others in it reading it brings me joy. Residents are doing all they can to prevent the library from being cut and to have it moved into the building that was purchased by the town. And through it all, the library staff keep welcoming all who enter.