Dale Thompson

Dale Thompson, Long-Serving Providence Public Library Director, Dies at 79

April 10, 2023

It is with great sadness that Providence Public Library (PPL) recognizes the passing of longtime Library Director Dale Thompson. She died in California surrounded by family on Saturday, March 25 at the age of 79. Read full obituary.

Thompson retired from PPL in January 2014 after nearly 34 years with the Library – 25 as director. During her tenure, PPL achieved numerous successes and was continually recognized as a leading library, most notably becoming only the second urban library to receive the IMLS National Award for Library Service in 2001. Under Thompson’s direction, the Library implemented a variety of innovative community services and programs for youth, adults, and families, a number of which became national models and continue to evolve.

Rhode Island’s and Providence’s high rates of illiteracy were a primary concern for Thompson, who oversaw the creation of PPL’s Family Literacy program. This program was so successful that in 1998, it became the model for the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative (RIFLI), a statewide, interlibrary effort to provide literacy instruction to whole families. This vital, free, first-step program with no baseline requirements for admission has grown and continues today, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

In addition, under Thompson’s leadership, PPL thrived in its statewide role, spearheading technology initiatives such as the development of the Cooperating Libraries Automated Network (CLAN), now Ocean State Libraries, and serving as the state-designated Reference Resource Center (now AskRI), which also continues today.

As director of Rhode Island’s largest library system, Thompson embraced her role as a key contributor among the state’s library leadership. She served on several boards and committees and was a resolute advocate for funding and policies to enhance library services statewide. In 1998, she helped lead a successful campaign in the state General Assembly to enact a 25 percent municipal grant-in-aid funding program for public libraries and in 2003 again successfully lobbied the General Assembly to extend the 25 percent to endowment funds. In 2003, she initiated the current RI State Library Commission. Her service was not limited to Rhode Island. She served as Director-in-Residence, model library director, for the Urban Library Council.

During a time when urban libraries were called upon to assume more integral roles in their communities, Thompson worked tirelessly to increase the number of PPL employees, as well as its hours of operation, collections, and technological and fiscal resources. We honor her commitment to PPL and to libraries nationwide, and we are grateful for her legacy.