by Suzanna U. and Amy T.
The third Saturday in August marks National Honey Bee Day, and the Free Library knows a thing or two about honey bees! Did you know we have quite a few of our own bees buzzing around town?
You better BEE-lieve it! Let us set the stage…
The Parkway Central Library is abuzz with activity. A record player in the Music Department belts out sweet vocals for an elderly patron to enjoy, while the Children’s Department is in full swing with busy toddlers engaging in early literacy at every turn. Venture upstairs and you’ll see globes in the Map Collection spinning alongside the many beloved titles in our subject departments; further up, visitors to the Our Five Senses exhibit take in the heady scratch and sniff portion of the show.
But on the very top of the building, you’ll find our smallest yet mightiest patrons: nearly 300,000, as a matter of fact. Our rooftop apiary, installed in 2018 by the Philadelphia Bee Company, includes four beehives and is home to approximately 240,000 honey bees. Nectar from flowers as close as our rooftop herb garden’s rosemary and sage planters to the blossoming ecosystem in parks and gardens within flying distance will come together to produce as much as 60 pounds of honey this year!
The Culinary Literacy Center uses honey in a number of programs, including a recent field trip welcoming students from the Overbrook School for the Blind as part of our Cookability program geared towards people of all ages with visual impairments. Students had a chance to meet beekeeper Don Shump and examine essential tools, such as a bee smoker, as well as fragrant bee products such as wax blocks. Throughout the day’s activities, students asked questions about honey production and bee life, learned about the different flavors of honey that are produced based on the nectar source, and made a honey-based dressing for a seasonal salad with Cookability instructor Devin D’Andrea. Books relating to honey were also read out loud, and by the end of the program empty bowls and smiling faces told us all what an impact such a simple ingredient as honey can have on a shared meal. Across town, the Richmond Library has an equally special connection with bees…
The story of the Richmond bees is a honeyed history, one that reflects human beings’ long fascination with bees as social animals. For over 10 years, the Richmond Library housed a feral hive of honey bees within the mortar of the building. Neighborhood families aware of the colony took a cautious approach to our tiny citizens, though some expressed reservation and fear. After all, a single bee sting can sometimes cause a serious allergic reaction in some people. Efforts to avoid this possibility resulted in consultations with Don Shump. Through Don, we learned about the inner workings of a complex society of individuals functioning as one. We also learned the importance bees have played in the human economy since the beginnings of civilization. The more the Richmond Library staff learned about our library honey bees, the more entranced we became. What better time than now, we thought, to showcase a fellowship of altruism, organization, and societal harmony? What better time to encourage learning about the planet as a fragile ecosystem, dependent on species of pollinators to feed us, sustain our habitats, and protect biodiversity?
When the feral hive moved from above the front door of the library to inside the library, into a glass case they now call home, our patrons and neighbors have fallen in love with the bees. Library program attendance and foot traffic has reached an all-time high. Penn State University and the Academy of Natural Sciences have teamed up with the Richmond Library and are using our bees in the longest and largest honey bee behavior study in the United States! The Richmond Library is proud to house a small population of the planet’s remarkable terrestrial life and provide patrons with experiential learning.
And now you know the buzz at the Free Library! If you’d like to study up on the importance of bees in our world, we’ve also got helpful online resources for you to browse, complete with bee-centric titles in our catalog, websites, and even some trivia from library staff! (Did you know that the modern beehive, called a Langstroth hive, was invented in Philadelphia?! Woop!)
Happy Honey Bee Day!