HOPKINTON — Tucked along Spring Street near the center of Hope Valley, the Langworthy Public Library is a small treasure chest of local history.
A large portrait of the library’s 19th century benefactor, Joseph Langworthy, hangs above the fireplace in the front reading area. Other historical objects with their own stories, including a Civil War-era saber, and photos dating back to the 1800s adorn the walls.
Hardwood floors, complete with cast-iron heating vents, creak when patrons browse the stacks of books and periodicals. This is a library that’s been left largely unchanged since it opened.
If not for a few computer terminals in one corner and one at the checkout desk, the experience of visiting would be like stepping back in time.
“That’s what I liked about it when I first walked in. When you’re here you’re not at home, but you’re home,” new director Amber Lavallee said.
Lavallee, the only full-time staff person, came to Langworthy in May 2022 from East Providence’s library. The change was dramatic.
“It’s definitely a different ballgame in a small library,” Lavallee said. “A lot of people say, ‘I always see this library and it’s so cute, but I never stopped in.’”
Lavallee and a small part-time staff work daily to make the library a welcoming place for patrons, one they’ll enjoy visiting.
Gail Mills works part-time at Langworthy. The Providence native retired from a career in the medical field and was looking for a way to contribute.
“I live right up the road,” she said. “It’s my favorite little place. I was here all the time and was looking for volunteer work. It’s a wonderful little community.”
A key part of that work involves offering varied programs that keep people coming back.
For example, the library hosted “Cookies, Cocoa and Crime,” a talk in December by author Kelly Sullivan about Rhode Island’s lesser-known true tales based on the accounts from her books.
“The crime and the fun stuff … the gossip back in the day,” Lavallee said. “This month, we’re having Indiecycle come. They recycle electronics.”
There are also weekly reading groups and a knitting club, an adult board-gaming club coming on Jan. 18 and “Device Advice” on Jan. 25 for those who want help using phone or tablet applications.
“We’re looking to have some more teen programs,” Lavallee said. One upcoming program will let teen participants weave a dreamcatcher, using an old compact disc as a loom.
Another loom, a large model in front of the fireplace, is part of a program called Looms and Libraries. Langworthy, Westerly Library and four other libraries around the state are taking part this winter.
Community members are able to use the loom to make a unique tapestry. Each finished tapestry will be exhibited for two months at Out of the Box Gallery in Jamestown starting in March. After the exhibit, each tapestry will be donated back to the library where it was created.
Langworthy is one of two public libraries in Hopkinton, the other being the Ashaway Free Library. Langworthy took shape in 1888 thanks to Joseph Langworthy, who bequeathed $5,000 toward its founding.
A reading room at Odd Fellows Lodge on Main Street opened with 794 books. A growing inventory of books and more users prompted its board of directors to move to a location on Mechanic Street in 1916, and then to its current location in 1934.
The library expanded to use space in the building’s basement starting in 1957.
Lavallee is happy about work done last year that greatly improved the experience of visiting library.
“We have heat now in the basement area,” she said. “That was a big project in the summer. Before that, we had to bring a lot of the downstairs programs upstairs because there was no heat.”
It was grant funding, she said, that allowed the library to install the heating.
The downstairs basement, or lower level area, offers specialized spaces. There’s a large area that’s essentially the children’s library, where kids can come and explore books for their age group or make a craft.
Adjoining the children’s section is a room that holds rows of filing cabinets that contain myriad archival documents, maintained by local historian Lauri Arruda and former acting director Martha Baton, Lavallee said. Both help visitors research the old photos, maps and family histories.
On the other side of the archive area is a community space for showing movies or having other gatherings.
“We’re trying to do a movie for families every month,” Lavallee said.
Like other libraries, Langworthy is governed by a board of directors and relies on state and local funding to operate, as well as the generosity of patrons and benefactors.
“We don’t have much of a program budget, so it’s on us to figure out,” Lavallee said.
One of its latest fundraisers offers a tote bag with a bottle of wine and a hardcover book for a $30 donation.
“People seem to like it,” Lavallee said. “On Friday nights you come in, you get your book and you’re like, ‘Hey, there’s wine here.’”
What does the future look like for the 135-year-old Langworthy Library? That’s up to the community that’s embraced it for so long.
“It’s a combination of everyone, really. Everybody has a fair say in the programs that happen,” Lavallee said. “We’re open to hearing anybody’s suggestions. Sometimes there’s a good idea.”
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