Today, the Free Library welcomes Mr. Kelly Richards as its new Director.
Prior to this appointment, Kelly served as the Muskegon Area District Library Director in Michigan and Michigan Library Association President. He brings with him almost three decades of library experience. He began his career in library services in the Las Vegas Clark County Library District, and also worked in the Genesee District Library in Flint, Michigan, before taking on the role of Director in Muskegon. In addition to his role as Director, Kelly served as the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance Chairperson, an organization that trains government agencies and businesses in principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion/belonging.
Kelly earned an Associate of Arts and a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice at Ferris State University and a Masters degree in Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. While in Pittsburgh, a one-term appointment as a Carnegie Library Intern turned into a yearlong internship where Kelly says he learned the power of advocacy and partnerships, which guides his work to this day.
We hope you enjoy getting to know our new Director through this special Q&A!
What are your primary goals as you begin your tenure at the Free Library?
I’m thrilled to begin working with all the staff members of the Free Library to build an environment of inclusiveness and build trust between all levels of the organization. Similarly, I also want to work with all the staff to build a stronger work environment that is fun and enjoyable to work within, and that provides real growth opportunities—a workplace of choice. I’d like to ensure that all staff are trained advocates for the Free Library in the communities, political sphere, and our social networks. Finally, I will be searching for ways to increase library funding and new revenue streams.
What drew you to work at the Free Library?
I was compelled by three things: the opportunity to work at one of the best libraries in the world; the diverse makeup of Philadelphia; and opportunities for the library to partner with other organizations to help with job development, early literacy, and improving the quality of life for so many people.
Do you have a favorite personal memory of a library in your own life?
Getting on the bookmobile as a little child and checking books out on sharks! I will never forget taking books by the milkcrate to schools as I started my career as a Children’s Librarian and looking at the faces of the children as I pulled out books with bugs, airplanes, makeup, and motorcycles. The children were so amazed at what the library had to offer. I would ask them how much they thought a library card costs. They would shout out answers from $10 to hundreds of dollars. I told them it was free, and I would hear, "WOW!!!" Way back then, that told me fines were impeding their access to their local library. They had to get those figures for the cost of a library card from somewhere.
Is there a foundational moment in your library career you’d like to share?
During my time getting a Master’s degree at the University of Pittsburgh, I was supposed to do a one-term internship with James Wellbourne, the Associate Director for Outreach and Community Services at the Carnegie Library. I enjoyed it and learned so much I did it for a year. His job was to build partnerships and synergies with community organizations and businesses. That was how I learned the power of advocacy and partnerships. After he left that library, he went on to New Haven Public Library and did great things before he passed away.
What was something you were surprised to learn about the Free Library?
I collect cookbooks and like to cook all kinds of dishes. When I saw the amazing cookbook collection at the Free Library, I was super impressed with it. Then when I went up to the full commercial kitchen at Parkway Central Library, I was sold!
What are you reading (or watching, or listening to, etc.)?
I’m reading the graphic novel series Injustice: Gods Among Us. The story is about when Superman goes bad. I read and collect comic books—a hobby I’ve had since I was a little kid. I’m also back to collecting albums. I have many that were handed down from my parents, but I also buy reprints.
What are some things you're excited to do in Philadelphia?
This is the most awesome work opportunity I’ve had in my whole life. I’m very excited about the possibilities of what all of the Free Library staff can accomplish as a team providing great library service to Philadelphia. I will also be exploring new places to fish and hike. I love fishing on my kayak and finding interesting places to explore.