Inside Town Government: The Greenville Public Library

By Ron Scopelliti

Driving into the parking lot of the Greenville Public Library, the torn-up pavement immediately tells you that change is on the horizon. But for library director Dorothy Swain, change has been a constant since she started as a part-time reference librarian in Greenville 30 years ago. Though the library has a collection of more than 66,000 books, it now offers much more, and keeping library patrons up to date on all the available services can be a challenge.

“There’s a lot of things they don’t know about, but we’re more than happy to explain to them when they come in here,” says Swain, who became director in 2015.

Looking at last year’s Annual Director’s report, services run the gamut from the expected books, videos, and CDs, to more unusual amenities like notary services, proctoring, and a 3-D printer/maker space. There are telescopes for loan, as well as printing, scanning, copying, and fax services, and a wide variety of online media.

The expansion of what the library provides reflects changes that Swain has seen not only in the services that patrons are looking for, but also in the way people access the library.

“The way the services are delivered now is different,” she says, with less face-to-face contact with patrons. Sometimes the interaction is strictly on the phone, or through e-mail, or through the digital collection in the Ocean State Libraries E-Zone.

“We have patrons that we probably will never even meet, because they don’t have to come in here,” Swain says.

Despite this, the number of people coming into the library is up – they just come in for different reasons.

“People don’t come in here necessarily for books,” Swainsays. “There’s a lot of tutoring going on after school. There are a lot of people here on computers. There are also a lot of people here doing work, either in the quiet studies or in the quiet areas of the building.”

Many people, she says, see the library alternative to an office or to working at home. The library can sometimes accommodate small groups in the work room or in the recital room downstairs, Swain notes. “They’re often very surprised that we can do that.”

“We have a lot of book clubs here,” she adds. “We have four book clubs.” The book clubs, which are all for adults, include a cookbook club, a mystery club, a “Picnic Table Book Club” that includes all types of fiction, and a novel group.

To better accommodate the number of people coming into the library, the parking lot is being expanded from 44 spaces to 98, and a new entrance/egress is being added on Rte. 116. Work is expected to be done by the end of summer.

“That was funded by a Champlin grant for $700,000,” Swain says. “We lucked out with that – they were willing to pay all of it.” The project will preserve the stone wall along Rte. 44, and relocate the section of wall on Spring Street to the back of the expanded lot.

“We don’t have to preserve it – it was checked by Town Hall,” Swain says. “But we are preserving it.”

“The sequoia tree is staying also,” she adds. “We’re working around that tree for the parking lot, because it’s beloved.”

Other library upgrades will be less physical.

“We’re going to have a new website very soon,” Swain says. “We’re going into a managed-content website.”

The library will also be building on learning programs that were tested over the last year, such as a “learning lab” tutoring program that matches young adults and children.

“We had a pilot program of it last year and it was pretty successful,” Swain says, “so we’re going to try and expand upon it this year.

“We’re also looking at an initiative with sensory storytimes. We’ve been doing them, but now we’re going to be doing a bit of a push.” Sensory storytimes introduce interactive and tactile elements to storytelling, and are beneficial for children with autism and similar conditions.

“It has been very sorely needed in this community,” Swain says. “Parents come in and they’re very happy that we provide that.”

Judging the public’s needs and adapting the library’s services to meet them seems to be a recurring theme with the director.

“To me, that’s what library work is all about – us serving the patrons, on whatever level; whatever they’re looking for. That’s always been my mantra.”

For a complete list of the Greenville Public Library’s services, visit their website at