For Release: 10/22/2003
Department of External Affairs
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710
FAX (215) 567-7850
Contact: Communications and Development
For Release: 10/22/2003
Contact: Communications and Development

Free Library of Philadelphia Receives National Award for Library and Museum Service

The Free Library of Philadelphia is one of six institutions across the country to receive the Institute of Museum and Library Services annual award, which is the country’s highest honor for extraordinary community service.

"The Free Library of Philadelphia's goal of 'making its collections and services so welcoming, useful, and easily accessible for all Philadelphians that the library walls cease to be barriers,' is truly ambitious," said Dr. Robert S. Martin, director of the federal Institute of Museum and Library Service. "Nevertheless, it is clear the library is well on its way to meeting its goal. Their innovative partnerships empower teens, supply books to toddlers, and help residents find work. I commend them and am proud to honor them with the National Award for Library Service."

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent federal grant-making agency dedicated to creating and sustaining a nation of learners. The award is officially conferred in Washington, DC on a date still to be determined and carries with it a $10,000 award.

Criteria for the award included showing a consistent commitment to public service and community outreach on the part of the library articulated by outstanding and innovative programs and strong community partnerships. The awards specifically go to organizations that "exhibit outstanding social, educational, environmental, or economic contributions to their communities."

"The Free Library is more than the sum of its parts, and we are deeply thankful to the Institute for recognizing that," said Elliot L. Shelkrot, president and director of the Free Library. "We are succeeding in making the library a haven for the dynamic thinkers of all generations, transforming our libraries into active, exciting, new environments that can and will be the bedrock of a learned and curious Philadelphia community far into the future."

The Free Library of Philadelphia qualified on several fronts. Socially, the Free Library primarily serves the 1.5 million residents of the city through 55 branches. Throughout Philadelphia, 41 percent of households lack home computers, meaning that the 700 public access computers at Free Library locations are critical to bridging the "digital divide." To further that goal, the Free Library offers free computer workshops and classes, as well as maintaining a simplified Internet access program called Generations Online specifically to allow those over 65 to become comfortable with the Internet.

In addition to technology programs, the Free Library offers General Education Diploma and English as a Second Language classes, as well as substantial foreign language collections to serve the diverse area population, including works in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, Russian, Polish, Korean, Arabic, and Cambodian. "Access Technology" programs allow the visually impaired to use library resources in a variety of innovative ways, from enlarged print and computer screen read outs, to Braille and voice translations.

Educationally, the Free Library’s Summer Reading program reached a record 54,000 children last year. Books Aloud!, which teaches ways to increase early literacy rates to parents and teachers of preschool aged children holds workshops throughout the city every month. The LEAP After School Program had 85,000 participants last year who were assisted in homework help by Teen Leadership Assistants, all of whom receive thorough training and have the opportunity to participate in workshops on career advancement, and SAT and college preparation activities. Each year the TLA’s produce the Youth Empowerment Summit to put their new skills to work and encourage their peers. The Free Library of Philadelphia has a permanent location for adult job and career seekers, The Workplace, which holds a job fair and resume writing workshops, as well as helping people learn how to find employment.

To increase the cultural environment, the Free Library offers a variety of live performances. The lecture series offer Philadelphians a chance to get close to and hear personally some of the greatest literary lights of our time, including in recent years, Eli Wiesel, Joyce Carol Oates, Salman Rushdie, Orson Scott Card, John Updike, and more. There is a special teen component to the series, through which local high school students are provided with copies of an author’s work in advance of author visits at the branch libraries with these classes, serving to bring literature alive for a whole new generation of readers.

The Free Library has also renovated every branch in the system, offering not only a new look, but improvements to vital computers and other technologies. The final challenge in this renovation process is the expansion and revitalization of the Central Library, Pennsylvania’s largest public library.

Visit our web site at
The mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia is to provide all segments of the population of Philadelphia a comprehensive collection of recorded knowledge, ideas, artistic expression, and information; to assure ease of access to these materials, and to provide programs to stimulate the awareness and use of these resources.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is an independent Federal grant-making agency dedicated to creating and sustaining a nation of learners. The Institute fosters leadership, innovation. And a lifetime of learning by supporting the nations 15,000 museums and 122,000 libraries. The Institute also encourages partnerships to expand the educational benefit of libraries and museums. To learn more about the Institute, please log onto:


Department of External Affairs, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710, FAX (215) 567-7850