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James P. Adams Library awarded $10,000 grant to digitize special collections

This slide of Providence in 1983 is one of thousands from the collection of the late RIC professor Chester Smolski.

This slide of Providence in 1983 is one of thousands from the collection of the late RIC professor Chester Smolski.
RIC’s James P. Adams library has received a $10,000 grant from the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities to digitize a special collection of slides and op-ed pieces focusing on historical urban development in Providence and other urban centers.

“The grant is the first of its kind received by the library,” said Hedi BenAicha, director of the library.

The funding will go towards a project to digitize the collection of 8,000 slides and 376 op-ed pieces by the late Chester (Chet) Smolski, RIC professor emeritus of geography.

The collection features images of a variety of urban subjects from North America, South America and Europe, including architecture, people, animals and litter.

“Smolski sought to capture the essence of urban life,” said Kresten Jespersen, principal investigator for the grant.

The 376 op-ed pieces in the collection were featured in the Providence Journal and both criticized and promoted Providence’s Capital Center Project for the purpose of steering the city towards the best judgments in urban renewal.

Mark Motte, professor of geography at RIC and Smolski’s successor, was instrumental in the process and acted as an intermediary between the library and Theresa Smolski, the late professor’s wife.

"This project builds on the remarkable legacy of Professor Smolski by protecting and organizing his impressive slide collection in digital form, by making available his many opinion and commentary pieces in the Providence Journal and Providence Business News, and by hosting public forums on a topic that was dear to Chet's heart and his professional life: urbanism in all its guises,” said Motte.

Chester Smolski

The grant is expected to have a major impact on the library. It will publicize its special collections through a series of lectures and panel discussions about the Smolski project, involving scholars, preservationists, architects and city planners.

“We wanted to enhance our chances as a library by collaborating with the College Advancement Office to be [on] par with other college departments in seeking external grant funding,” said BenAicha.

“The project team is excited about the possibilities for sharing and publicizing Chet's work, so that a wider audience will appreciate his substantial contributions to the understanding of urban revitalization policies, particularly in Providence," said Motte.
The team includes scholars from the disciplines of architecture, history and geography.

According to Jespersen, this grant will also be a stepping stone to further the digitization of special collections at the library.

The collection will reside in the DigitalCommons@RIC, which collects, preserves, and provides access to scholarship by students, staff, and faculty at RIC.

The project has garnered attention from the Society of Architecture Historians and the collection will be accessible through SAH’s Architecture Resources Archive.

Additionally, this grant will allow two or three students to be employed on the digitization project over the summer.

The digitization team hopes that in the future, Smolski’s contributions will help city-planners worldwide in influencing their city’s revival − similar to how Smolski influenced the renaissance of Providence.