For Release: Immediately
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: Immediately
Contact: Communications and Development


Report’s findings indicate that 96% of visitors believe the Free Library is a valuable part of their community

The Free Library of Philadelphia recently worked with ImpactED at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania to examine the Library’s impact on its visitors. In fiscal year 2017, 640,000 people in Philadelphia held a library card, and the Library welcomed approximately 5 million in-person visits; the study revealed key details about the way these customers use and view the Free Library. The ImpactED team’s research specifically examined the impact of the Library in four key areas: community engagement, literacy, workforce development, and small-business development.

The study, which was undertaken in the fall of 2017, highlights the fact that 96% of Library users say the institution is a valuable asset to their community. What’s more, those who know about and use the Library’s resources report positive impacts. For example, 95% of caregivers whose children participate in the Library’s literacy programs report that these programs helped their children learn to read and do better in school. In addition to being a critical resource for early literacy in the city, the Free Library also fuels Philadelphia’s economic engine: Nearly 30% of customers visit the Library to look for a new job or learn new skills, and of those, nearly a third report having found a job because of these resources. Similarly, Philadelphia’s small-business community relies on the Free Library, with 15% of visitors who use these resources reporting that the resources helped them start a small business and 17% reporting that these resources helped them grow their small business.

“The Impact Evaluation Study clearly shows that Philadelphians who use the Free Library’s resources benefit greatly from them,” said Free Library President and Director Siobhan A. Reardon. “To that end our team will be redoubling its efforts to get the word out in every Philadelphia community about the incredible programs, services, and resources offered at our 54 library locations around Philadelphia. The more people use the Free Library, the stronger our city will be.”

“Through this work, we learned that the Free Library is truly representative of the city as a whole, across demographic factors like race, gender, age, and level of education,” said Nina Hoe, Director of Evaluation at Fels ImpactED. “Of all of our findings, this is what I found most striking. To our knowledge, this is the first time that the Library has been able to understand its customers in this way. This study, without question, demonstrates that the Library is a place for all Philadelphians, where visitors can feel safe and welcome, and where they can access free, invaluable resources that are not available elsewhere.”   

The following are highlights of the study’s findings.

Community Engagement Findings

  • Library visitors are largely representative (demographically) of Philadelphia residents overall.
  • Library visitors are overwhelmingly positive about the Library and its staff.
    • 97% feel safe at the Library.
    • 96% feel the Library is a valuable part of their community.
  • Visitors see the Library as a convening place and anchor point of their neighborhoods.

Literacy Findings

  • Only a small proportion of parents or caregivers visiting the Library have children who are enrolled in the different literacy programs offered.
  • Parents whose children had attended Library literacy programs report positive impacts. Of parents and caregivers who sent their children to storytime, the Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program, or the Summer Reading program,
    • 95% say storytime was valuable for their child in learning to read.
    • 95% say LEAP helped their child do well in school.
    • 94% say the Summer Reading program was valuable for their child’s literacy.
  • Read by 4th is a strong example of the Library as an organizer and convener.  

Workforce Development Findings

  • Job seekers are visiting the Library and finding new and better jobs as a result of the Library’s programs and resources.
    • 29% of visitors say they visited the Library to look for a new job or learn new skills for a job in the last 12 months.
    • 32% of job seekers at the Library got a new job with the help of Library programs and resources; 23% report getting a better job.
  • Job seekers gained job skills and took positive actions toward gaining new or better employment.
    • 62% of job seekers applied for a new job.
  • Awareness and use of the Library’s different job-seeker resources and programs vary.
    • 80% of job seekers know about the free Wi-Fi; 54% use it.
    • 28% of job seekers know about the Job Seekers Guide; 21% use it.

Small Business Development Findings

  • Visitors to the Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC) and Regional Foundation Center (RFC) gained tangible skills necessary for starting or improving small businesses and growing nonprofit organizations in the future.
  • BRIC and RFC give people access to programming and resources not available elsewhere and are highly valued by users and those working in small-business development in the city.
  • Some visitors to BRIC and RFC took actions toward starting or improving small businesses and growing nonprofit organizations.
    • 15% of surveyed BRIC users started a small business.
    • 17% of surveyed BRIC users grew a small business.
    • 9% of RFC users received a grant or funding.

The evaluation utilized mixed methods. Quantitative data collection included Library administrative data, a system-wide, representative in-person Library Visitor Survey, and a web-based Small Business Development Survey of visitors who had used business resources during the preceding 12 months. Qualitative data collection included interviews with internal and external experts in all four key areas.

The full report—including findings, details on methodology, and recommendations—can be accessed at, under the “About” section.


About the Free Library of Philadelphia
The Free Library of Philadelphia system, with 54 locations and the Rosenbach, 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, including neighborhood Hotspots; and rich special collections, including those at Parkway Central Library and at the Rosenbach. With more than 6 million in-person visits and millions more online 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 ImpactED at the Fels Institute of Government
Based at the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, the mission of ImpactED is to accelerate social change by building data informed organizations. ImpactED works with organizations to develop an evaluation strategy and design, including logic models and indicators, collects and analyzes quantitative and qualitative data, and supports organizations to use data to inform programming and communication. ImpactED bridges the worlds of research and practice by applying rigorous academic expertise to meet real-world needs. Since 1937, the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania has pioneered the training and practice of public management. Today, Fels builds on its legacy of impact and innovation to prepare the world's next generation of public sector leaders.



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