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Westerly Sun Column


 Sallie Coy, Our Longest-Serving Director

You’ve probably heard of Sallie Coy, Westerly Library’s longest-serving director, but you may not know everything she accomplished to make the library accessible and relevant to patrons. Coy adapted the library to serve the ever-changing needs of the community. While she spent three decades leading the library, her affiliation lasted much longer.

Sallie Coy was born in Westerly on September 6th, 1892, to parents Frank and Bessie (Holmes) Coy. The Memorial and Library Association isn’t the only one celebrating a 125th anniversary this year – Coy was born just a month before the Association was formed by the initiative of Stephen Wilcox.

Coy and Westerly Library had a long affiliation that started when she received her first library card at age 10. She started working here in 1910 under the library’s first librarian, Ethan Wilcox. Rising through the ranks, she became the assistant librarian in 1925. In 1928, Coy earned a certificate in library studies from the Columbia School of Library Services, and just two years later became librarian (which is now the equivalent of our Executive Director.)

Her tenure as librarian is still the longest in the library’s history: she held the post from 1930 until her retirement in 1960. She helmed the library through difficult times. During the Great Depression, circulation grew as the community looked to borrow materials. During WWII, Coy made sure that the gymnasium, showers, and reading rooms were available as a place of respite to servicemen on short layovers.  She also oversaw the addition of fluorescent lights and an elevator to the library – changes that made the building more accessible to all.

Our library has long included art, but Coy made it a priority. She organized art exhibits on Westerly’s history, as well as a series of five exhibits on the theme of war. As part of the Federal Art Project during the 1930s, the library hosted art classes for 25 students. Coy also implemented the library’s art loan collection, which started with patrons being able to borrow a framed print of a famous painting for up to three months for 25 cents per month. The art loan collection eventually included original pieces as well. Her history of including art has been of special interest to us now since we are developing art and technology programming for our Studio Rhode Westerly project; it has even inspired an oral history project to capture memories of these art programs.

In 1953, Coy received the American Library Association’s Librarian of the Year Award, a national honor. She was also recognized within our community with the Citizen of the Year award in 1960. After Coy’s retirement in 1960, she spent two years on the library’s Board of Trustees. During her retirement, she wrote a book on the history of the library, which is currently being added upon and should be available next year. Sadly, Coy passed away in 1976.

If you have any memories of the library during Sallie Coy’s tenure, or memories of the arts in Westerly, we would love to capture them as part of our oral history project. If interested, please contact Kelsey Crossley at kmatthews@westerlylibrary.org or 401-596-2877 ext. 301.

 

by Colleen Walsh-Jervis, Program Coordinator