In 1915, the elementary school children in Providence answered a set of questions The answers revealed that the children from Elmwood were reading and comprehending less than children from any other district in the city.
Soon after the children’s librarian from the Providence Public Library (PPL) contacted Emma Shaw to let her know about the results and what might be done to improve this unacceptable result.
Mrs. Shaw, and her husband Frederick a prominent businessman lived in the neighborhood in their home located at 126 Melrose Street. She was instrumental in quickly bringing together a group of women who soon met with representatives from the PPL. By the end of the meeting it was decided to pursue the establishment of a library for Elmwood.
The story of their fundraising and dedicated efforts which they sustained over a lengthy period is legendary. A circular was prepared and a tea given on June 3rd to which ladies from every section of Elmwood were invited. They were asked to solicit $1 subscriptions from their neighbors making those householders who contributed sustaining members of the Elmwood Public Library Association, of which Mrs. Shaw was elected the President on that same day and a position she remained in until 1941. In today’s dollars , the 450 subscriptions would be worth donations of over $10, 000.
The Ward Room located in the Greenwich Street Fire Station was secured for the use of the library from the city which provided the renovations and the room free of charge.
On July 10, 1915, the library opened three afternoons a week, and Saturday until 9 P.M.