Our Early Beginnings
The Woonsocket Harris Public Library was originally known as the Harris Institute Library. Situated on the second floor of the Harris Institute Building in the Harris Block on Main Street , the Harris Institute Library opened its doors to the public on October 3, 1868. The Harris Institute Library has the distinction of being the first public library in the state of Rhode Island . The library was located directly below Harris Hall, where Abraham Lincoln delivered an anti-slavery address in 1860. The founder of the library was Mr. Edward Harris, who was a noted Woonsocket woolen manufacturer and philanthropist.
The first branch library in the city was the Social Branch Library, which opened on January 13, 1927. The Social Branch was located on the second floor of the Dulude Building near Social Corner, in the heart of Woonsocket ‘s most densely populated district at the time. The Social Branch Library remained in operation until 1974.
A Major Move
After it was decided that the library had long outgrown its space in the Harris Institute Building , a new building to house the library was constructed in the Social Flatlands on Clinton Street beginning May 17, 1973. Construction was completed in 1974. A mild controversy arose when a Mrs. Jellison and others proposed that the new library be named the Woonsocket Public Library since the building had been made possible by public funds. However, Mrs. Phyllis Thomas of the Woonsocket Historical Society insisted that the name “Harris” remain to honor the Harris Institute’s founder, Edward Harris. The two factions compromised, and decided upon the title of the Woonsocket Harris Public Library. The building was designed in a style by William Warner and Associates to capture the essence of Woonsocket ‘s historic mills. The Woonsocket Harris Public Library was dedicated on October 20, 1974. The Head Librarian of the era was Miss Doris Chapdelaine, who worked at the library from 1942 to 1976. After her retirement, the Board of Trustees named the library’s west wing reading area “The Doris Chapdelaine Reading Room” in her honor.
The city’s second branch library, the Fairmount Branch, opened in January 1998. It was created to serve the children of the Fairmount section of the city who might not have regular access to the main library on Clinton Street . The Fairmount Branch Library was located on 18 Memorial Drive. The Fairmount Branch closed on March 31, 2007.
The Woonsocket Harris Public Library went through a major expansion and renovation project that was completed in 2001. The library was temporarily relocated to the site of the former Cherry and Webb store on Diamond Hill Road . Since the space was much smaller than the library had been, only a small percentage of the collection was housed in the temporary space. The rest of the library’s materials were kept in storage. Operating the library in the temporary lodging was certainly a challenge for the library’s staff. There was no access to the Internet for the staff or public, and assisting patrons with limited materials was difficult. However, the staff took on the challenge and provided service to the public to the best of their abilities. The new and improved Woonsocket Harris Public Library had its Grand Reopening celebration on October 19, 2001.