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Willett Free Library Endowment Fund
By Jean Cohoon / September 27, 2016 /   Loading Disqus...

The line “Good things come in small packages” certainly applies to the Willett Free Library. Noted on its website to be the smallest library in Rhode Island, the 1,452 square foot library attracts patrons who enter through a welcoming, fireplaced front room, complete with comfortable chairs. They come, not only to borrow books and other items available for circulation, but also to attend events ranging from a weekly story time to a poetry reading group and from movie nights to travel talks.

“We figured out early on that we wanted to morph the library into a community center,” says Ellie Ferguson, who has chaired the library’s board of directors since 2000. “We’ve found that ‘If you build it, they will come’ is absolutely true. If you supply a place where people can gather, they will.”

Located in Saunderstown, a village in the Town of North Kingstown, the library was founded in 1885 as the Society for Mutual Improvement. Its home since 1903, at 45 Ferry Road, underwent a major renovation and expansion in 2013, a project Ellie believes “successfully preserved the architectural history of the building.” The library is a member of Ocean State Libraries consortium, is handicapped accessible, and has a collection of nearly 10,000 volumes.

Ellie is appreciative of the support the renovation received from foundations and townspeople alike. “Village life is alive and well in Rhode Island. The town really has been behind us,” she shares, adding, “We had contributions that just kept coming.”

Those extra funds, along with monies the board had set aside earlier, memberships, and funds raised through events including the annual book and bake sale, allowed the library board to establish this endowment. “As we were growing from country mice to city mice and getting more serious about our governance, we realized how important an endowment is,” Ellie explains on behalf of the nine-member board.

Referring to the Rhode Island Foundation as “the jewel in the crown for its credibility,” Ellie states, “If you say you have a fund at the Foundation, you have an advantage with supporters.”

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