Five Questions With: Richard Ring

A graduate of Ohio State University, Richard Ring, Rhode Island Historical Society deputy executive director of collections and interpretation, has had a lifetime love affair with books. He has held positions including reference and acquisition librarian at the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, where he ran the acquisition committee meetings. He then raised funds for the Providence Public Library, where he oversaw publication of the quarterly newsletter Occasional Nuggets.

For the past seven years, Ring served as the head curator of the Watkinson Library & College Archives at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where he founded a Creative Fellowship for undergraduate students.

PBN: What first intrigued you about working at the RIHS with its extensive collection?

RING: I was aware of its long and august history as the fourth-oldest historical society in the country, with pioneering directors [such as] Howard M. Chapin and Clarence S. Brigham. It is also clearly a place on the rise, with an active and supportive board, the recent affiliation with the Smithsonian and a dedicated, energetic staff.

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PBN: What will be your responsibilities as deputy director of collections and interpretation?

RING: Reporting to the executive director, I will assist in making strategic decisions related to our programs and initiatives, advise on industry best practices and trends in terms of the preservation of the collections, digitization and creating more innovative access to the collections. I will manage the staff of the society’s research library on Hope Street and will coordinate with the directors of the Goff education center in the John Brown House and the Museum of Work & Culture.

PBN: What do you think are the most impressive, quirky noteworthy items in the RIHS collection?

RING: This is an impossible question, as the collections are vast – row upon row of boxes of documents created by Rhode Islanders in official and unofficial capacities for four centuries, as well as tens of thousands of books and more than 25,000 artifacts from spindle wheels to muskets to a fully-restored and preserved horse-drawn carriage. The quirkiest item I’ve seen so far is the root that ate Roger Williams.

PBN: You once owned a used bookstore and worked for the Brown University John Carter Brown Library, how will this extended experience in the book industry aid your role in collections at RIHS?

RING: There are two main sources of “new” historical material – that is, unique documents, scarce books, or artifacts [that] have not seen the light of day in generations. Those in historical collections who do not cultivate their knowledge of the trade and pay attention to the potential donors [that] are all around them do so at the peril of their institutions – in this way you can miss great opportunities to grow and stay relevant. My time at local institutions [such as] Brown, the Providence Public Library and others mean I am aware of and have good relations with some of the other players in the landscape of Rhode Island cultural institutions.

PBN: If there was one thing you wished more Rhode Islanders knew about the RIHS collection, what would it be?

RING: I would want people to know we are here to help every Rhode Islander, from Newport to Smithfield, engage more fully with the fascinating and colorful history of this little state.

Emily Gowdey-Backus is a staff writer for PBN. You can follow her on Twitter @FlashGowdey or contact her via email,