Hidden PVD

A Catalog of Crops

An old card catalog finds new life as a seed bank at the Providence Public Library


For half a century, visitors to the Providence Public Library would open little drawers and find ranks of index cards. But when the library went digital, one of its card catalogs found a new purpose – as a seed bank. The cabinet was repurposed last year as part of the library’s “On the Table” exhibition. During the growing season, amateur gardeners can search its 32 drawers and walk away with up to five packets of seeds. Instead of alphabetical labels, the catalog now has little tags marked “tomato,” “basil,” and “sweet peas.”

Alisson Walsh, a consultant for the library, first cultivated the idea, procuring seeds from URI’s Master Gardener program. Since the bank relies on the honor system, it’s hard to tell who’s taken the seeds and how many plants they’ve harvested, but hundreds of packets had vanished from the drawers by the end of December. The seed bank has hibernated through the winter, standing in an inconspicuous corner of the first floor; this spring, the librarians expect its drawers to blossom again.

“We will definitely be bringing it back,” says Tonia Mason, the library’s marketing director. “People love it. And there’s a lot of room to grow.”