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Providence Public Library Announces Receipt of $450K from the NEH to Help Preserve History & Modernize for the Future

August 6, 2018

New NEH Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge grant will help PPL preserve and share culturally significant works & artifacts, a goal of its current THINK AGAIN building transformation project

Providence Public Library (PPL) has received $450,000 in federal funding through the National Endowment for the Humanities’ (NEH) new Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge grant program to preserve culturally significant works and modernize for the future, the Library announced today.

The NEH award will support PPL’s “Special Collections Renovation: Investing in Public Humanities Sustainability and Access” project, which is an important portion of its major THINK AGAIN facilities renovation and capital campaign currently getting underway. With the planned renovation, PPL’s Special Collections will move to a new, user-friendly space to better preserve the collection’s items and resources for decades to come. The federal funds will help improve storage conditions for some of the Library’s most significant materials and artifacts.

“Preserving and sharing PPL’s special collections is integral to our mission and we are beyond thrilled to have the NEH’s tremendous support of our transforming THINK AGAIN library renovation. In particular, this funding is crucial for the improvements we are making to ensure that our invaluable humanities resources are available for generations of users. Our unique collections will soon be housed in an inviting, user-friendly, and climate controlled space and we will not only be able to preserve them properly but also make them openly accessible to the public and researchers for decades to come, as well as show them in a new museum-quality exhibition space,” said Jack Martin, PPL Executive Director.

PPL’s Special Collections Department houses the most unique and valuable items at the Library, which provide insight into a variety of humanities subjects of national historical and cultural significance and which are valued in the tens of millions of dollars. The new grant will help to ensure that the items on display are properly preserved and secure while remaining accessible to the public and researchers for years to come.

“Kudos to NEH for addressing this critical need and making the Providence Public Library one of the first recipients of an Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge grant. PPL does so much to enrich our community and this is a smart investment in both preserving our history and ensuring that the library can continue to connect future generations of Rhode Islanders to those who have gone before them. The library’s Special Collections contain unique, irreplaceable materials, artifacts, and resources that tell the stories of Rhode Island, New England, America, and the human condition,” said Senator Jack Reed, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee who annually champions funding for federal library programs.

“The professionals and boosters of the Providence Public Library deserve great credit for winning this very competitive award. They’ve done a real service in preserving our history for future generations and expanding access to their physical and digital collections,” said Reed.

Senator Reed authored and successfully passed the bipartisan Museum and Library Services Act of 2010, which provides needed federal assistance each year to museums and libraries across the country. He has introduced new legislation, the Museum and Library Services Act of 2017 (S. 2271), to update and enhance this critical legislation. PPL has been a recipient of IMLS funding on multiple occasions.

PPL is undertaking a transforming $25 million renovation project that will make major infrastructure improvements to PPL’s downtown buildings (including parts of the original building built in 1900). The 83,000-square foot project will transform the Library’s 1950s wing, which was last renovated in the 1980s, auditorium, and special collections suite and other areas to provide 21st-century library services for Providence and Rhode Island residents.

PPL’s Special Collections Department includes:

• The Rhode Island Collection, an unduplicated research collection and community resource of materials for, by, and about Rhode Island and its people.

• The Nicholson Whaling Collection, which comprises the second largest collection of whaling logbooks in America as well as scrimshaw, harpoons, photographs, and other relics.

• Updike Collection on the History of Printing, one of the most important typographical collections in the country containing over 7,500 volumes, 600 letters and other manuscripts, hundreds of prints, printed ephemera, printing presses, a wooden type case, a set of punches, and two sets of matrices for the Montallegro and Merrymount types.

• The Caleb Fiske Harris collection on the Civil War and Slavery, which is PPL’s largest collection and includes more than 10,000 Civil War-era books, periodicals, pamphlets, etc.

There are also many more, ranging from collections focusing on Irish culture to the organizational archives of AS220, a nationally recognized arts organization in Providence.

Last year, PPL received a $63,660 federal grant from the National Archives’ National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s (NHPRC) “Access to Historical Records: Archival Projects” funding to process and catalog AS220’s extensive organizational records, making them readily available to researchers and the public for the first time.

PPL is an independent, non-profit organization founded in 1875, governed by a Board of Trustees, and supported primarily through private funding sources, including its own PPL Foundation. PPL provides services and resources to more than 152,000 visitors annually. The Library also serves as the Statewide Reference Resource Center holding unique collections and resources.

NEH’s Infrastructure and Capacity-Building Challenge grant requires a match of non-federal funds, may be used toward capital expenditures such as construction and renovation projects, purchase of equipment and software, sharing of humanities collections between institutions, documentation of lost or imperiled cultural heritage, sustaining digital scholarly infrastructure, and preservation and conservation of humanities collections.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at:

Public Notice
PPL was proud to receive an Infrastructure and Capacity Building Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in support of our THINK AGAIN renovation. As part of our grant terms, and in keeping with our mission as a community-focused organization, we welcome any and all public feedback on our project. Please see the attached notice for more information on how to submit your comments.