For Release:
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:
Contact: Communications and Development


Free Library of Philadelphia’s Landmark Transformation Made Possible by Historic $25 Million Gift from the William Penn Foundation


PHILADELPHIA – Sept. 11, 2014 – Last year, the Free Library of Philadelphia welcomed more than six million visitors. Thirty percent of those visitors stopped in monthly. In a single year, those visitors generated more than 3 million reference questions, which equates to two questions for every man, woman and child who lives in the city today.  What are all of these people seeking?  Information and services, access and opportunities. Historically, libraries were a hub for learning, reading, and research. Today, they are so much more, offering resources and assistance in everything from technology training, social services, job coaching, and, yes, literacy and education.  To support this massive growth of the Free Library’s role in the fabric of the city, the Free Library of Philadelphia is partnering with the William Penn Foundation and the City of Philadelphia to announce the transformational Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative, reestablishing the Library as a central resource in every neighborhood in Philadelphia, serving as a portal to learning, public services, economic opportunity, recreation, and community engagement.


Building Inspiration is an innovative model for the future of library service across the country and the globe—designed to respond to the rapidly changing roles of libraries in our contemporary society and information-based economy. The project involves three key components: 1) the renovation and expansion of the Parkway Central Library; 2) the restoration and modernization of neighborhood libraries across the city, 3) and the strengthening of community partnerships—particularly with the city’s schools—to best meet the diverse needs of all Philadelphians. Building Inspiration is made possible by several transformative gifts in a unique partnership between the public and private sectors, underscored by a historic $25 million gift from the William Penn Foundation—the largest private gift ever received by the Library.


“The Free Library was originally built around the simple goal of community enlightenment, and throughout the years, has evolved to meet the public’s expanding need for knowledge,” said Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia.  “But now those needs have far outpaced our infrastructure, and we must evolve and expand in physical space and programmatic outreach.  Through Building Inspiration, we can now advance and extend the capabilities of our libraries to serve our communities in greater ways than ever before. With soaring new spaces and deep, dynamic programming, we can now further our commitment to being a highly flexible, outward-facing, community-focused organization.  This is not just a physical transformation—it’s a deeply human one.”


Funding for Building Inspiration is being raised and managed by the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, a private, non-profit, 501c3 entity that supports the programs and activities of the Free Library of Philadelphia. In addition to the William Penn Foundation, major funding partners of the $60 million Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries initiative include the City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia City Council, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Ruth and A. Morris Williams, Jr., and many additional private gifts from foundations and individuals.


Through this multi-phase, multi-faceted initiative, the Free Library will transform physically and programmatically. The historic Beaux-Arts Parkway Central Library will continue to be restored and modernized into a 21st-century information and innovation hub for the Greater Philadelphia region. In addition, the Free Library’s neighborhood libraries will be enhanced into pioneering community hubs of their own, ensuring that strong, neighborhood-specific programming and resources are offered in functional modern spaces, easily adaptable to the community’s ever changing needs. The Library will also create an Innovation Fund dedicated to sustaining future programming and staffing. As part of this effort, the Free Library is expanding and enhancing its relationship with Philadelphia’s public schools, proactively supporting teachers and students to achieve specific learning goals.


Flexibility is a key facet of Building Inspiration as it allows the Free Library to evolve and change along with the needs of Philadelphia’s communities. Today, people come to the library for everything from finding a job, to starting a small business, to learning a new language. It’s important that library spaces can easily adapt to meet the vast and ever-changing needs of community members, in a literal sense by providing flexible options like movable furniture, and in a programmatic sense through offerings that are responsive to community needs.


“The Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative is truly an innovative way of understanding the library and its role in the community and in our rapidly changing world,” said Reardon. “By investing in our libraries and remaking them into flexible, community-driven places to gather, learn, and grow, we will create a 21st-century institution that fosters intellectual growth and enlightenment for generations to come. The Free Library is incredibly grateful to the William Penn Foundation for its transformative gift as well as its longtime support of the Library, and to other generous funders for investing in the future prosperity of all Philadelphians through Building Inspiration.”


“Today’s libraries are access points for important community and social services, key partners in advancing the mission of our schools, and gateways to economic opportunity for many people in our increasingly information-based economy,” said Janet Haas, MD, Vice-chair of the William Penn Foundation Board of Directors. “The community libraries, in particular, are becoming vital neighborhood centers, places where people come together to build community, engage with one another and use tools and resources needed to be successful. Libraries are places of life-long learning, which is why we are so pleased to be a partner in this important work.”


“The Free Library of Philadelphia is a vital resource and treasured institution in the City of Philadelphia,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter.  “It supports our city’s children and schools through afterschool programming, homework help and digital literacy initiatives. It also serves Philadelphians of all ages in every neighborhood by offering free Wi-Fi and computer access, as well as a quiet place to focus on the task at hand – whatever that may be.  The City and the Library are fortunate to have a great partner in the William Penn Foundation, whose support adds to the educational and cultural richness of our great city.”



Parkway Central Library

The Free Library is continuing to restore and expand its nearly 100-year-old Parkway Central Library into a contemporary dynamo, uniquely designed to serve Greater Philadelphia and to advance the Library’s 61-location system.


As part of the Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative, the Free Library will construct two unique new public spaces at Parkway CentralThe Common and The Business Research and Innovation Center.  This will all take place in the several floors of space formerly occupied by closed, outdated book storage stacks, the contents of which remain accessible to the public through the Library’s Regional Resource and Operations Center. Designed by internationally acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie, The Common will serve as an active community space where individuals can gather to create, collaborate, and share. The Business Research and Innovation Center will also offer incubator space for new projects and ideas and help individuals gain assistance on turning their entrepreneurial dreams into reality.


Neighborhood Libraries

The Free Library has identified five neighborhood libraries, representing a broad cross-section of Philadelphia neighborhoods, to serve as prototype Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative models.  Each of the prototype libraries will be physically transformed to make them more attractive and welcoming to customers, featuring dedicated space for different age groups and reading levels, places for informal gathering, as well as community meeting space, all while also ensuring full ADA accessibility. Each renovated library will have a unique programmatic focus, in response to identified community needs.   And all of the libraries will be equipped with new technology and internet access to aid school-age leaners, job searchers, and individuals seeking to access to health and social services. 


Renovations at these libraries are being led by architect James R. Keller, a leader in planning and design for libraries. Input and feedback from community members on how neighborhood libraries can best serve them have been incorporated into these plans.



These libraries and focus areas include:

·         Lillian Marrero Library, 601 West Lehigh Avenue

o   Lillian Marrero Library will focus on early childhood literacy and services for new Americans, connecting the surrounding community with services they need to grow and thrive.

·         Logan Library, 1333 Wagner Avenue;

o   Logan Library will focus on family literacy and will have new spaces in which to learn together and programming designed to build literacy across generations.

·         Lovett Memorial Library, 6945 Germantown Avenue

o   Lovett Memorial Library will establish a community center for Mt. Airy residents of all ages, where individuals and organizations will be able to meet and connect with each other and the world around them.

·         South Philadelphia Library, 1700 South Broad Street;

o   South Philadelphia Library, a partnership with The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, will focus on health and wellness information and services for new Americans.

·         Tacony Library, 6742 Torresdale Avenue.

o   Tacony Library, situated in the heart of a re-emerging commercial corridor, will focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs, helping to further revive the area’s business community.


With a deep understanding that community members rely on neighborhood libraries for everything from resume building help, to attending programs and events aimed at addressing specific community needs, to the support of digitally savvy librarians who help share rich, special collections with curiosity seekers from around the world, Building Inspiration will truly create neighborhood libraries for the community shaped by the community.


Community Partnerships: School District of Philadelphia

As a critical component of Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries, the Free Library will strengthen its existing partnerships and develop new relationships with organizations that can serve as voices of their communities. One important partnership the Free Library will continue to foster and intensify is its work in tandem with the School District of Philadelphia to ensure that all public school students receive the academic support they need to succeed.  With more than 10,000 programs for children each year, the Free Library educates and enriches the lives of more children in Philadelphia than any other organization except the School District. With flagship programs such as the Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program and Summer Reading, as well as the recent drive that put library cards in the hands of every student, this strengthened partnership with the School District will significantly amplify the Library’s ability to connect with its neighborhoods and its customers, providing a broader range of services than any one institution could on its own. This partnership will go further than ever before to ensure that Philadelphia’s children have the skills to access the information, resources, and supports that they need to succeed.


For more information on the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative, please visit or


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About the Free Library of Philadelphia
The 61-location Free Library of Philadelphia system advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 25,000 yearly programs and workshops; free public computers and extensive Wi-Fi; and rich special collections, including  those at Parkway Central Library and at The Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. With more than 6 million in-person and 9 million online visits annually, the Free Library and the Rosenbach are among the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.


About the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation is a private, non-profit, 501c3 entity that supports the programs and activities of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Through the generosity of individuals, foundations, and corporations, the Foundation supports special programs such as the Author Events Series; One Book, One Philadelphia; LEAP, the Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program; and Summer Reading, enriching lives through literacy, cultural, and educational experiences.


About the William Penn Foundation

The William Penn Foundation, founded in 1945 by Otto and Phoebe Haas, is dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families


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