Q&A with New Free Library Director, Kelly Richards

By Administrator RSS Fri, January 14, 2022

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.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

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Question about how is it possible to overcome a case of discrimination
Friday, January 14, 2022

Welcome, Mr. Richards. I also have fond memories of visiting the library as a young child. I look forward to learning about your community outreach and relationship building activities. I do similar work and would be happy to help in some way.
Ellen Marshall - phila
Friday, January 14, 2022

Welcome to our city and to the leadership of Free Library of Philadelphia. If the library ever has need for improving health literacy and health education for its staff or members, my services are available
Derrick Mobley MD - PHILADELPHIA
Friday, January 14, 2022

Greetings from Lancaster County. My husband and I value the services the library offers to all state residents. I am a retired school librarian, and I enjoyed reading your bio including the joy you brought to the children visiting the bookmobile.
Eileen Stauffer - Gordonville, PA
Friday, January 14, 2022

I am a lover of books and the library setting is one that I always have and will continue to choose over many others when it comes to where to find peace. I am new to Philadelphia and I was amazed by the Central Parkway Branch on Vine St. I've spent weeks visiting from open to close, just doing research and working on my creative and motivational writing. As I am a young adult seeking a career, and any position in the library would easily reflect my career of choice, what would be some advice for seeking a career in the library and to possibly end up directing one one day, just as you do? I have aspirations to start my own small library as well. Would you have any tips on where to start?
Ijtihad Muhammad - Philadelphia, PA
Saturday, January 22, 2022

Please help me get my birth certificate. I was born in Philly on March 2nd, 1958. My dad, James De Luca, and my mom's name is Arlene Davenport De Luca. Thank you...
John De Luca - New York
Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Why does the West Philadelphia Regional library have shortens hours, if staffing issue, why not shift staff from other libraries to Blackwell library? I see poor use of resources, is there a reason to designate a library as the regional branch, if so, is the mission being fulfilled?
Lamont Brown - Phila.
Thursday, January 27, 2022

It's a pleasure to welcome you to Philadelphia and to read about your past leadership experiences, goals and visions for our library. As a retired Educator and current active member I understand the importance of literacy, community involvement, and access to the services of the library. Wilhelmena Calland
Wilhelmena Calland - Philadelphia
Friday, January 28, 2022

Greetings, I am the Executive Director of a growing nonprofit in the Philly region that distributes more books to kids in need that any other nonprofit. Are you interested in partnering with us, to help stream tens of thousands of books each year into book deserts? Please check out our media a page to see our impact. https://www.booksmiles.org/pressmedia.html
Larry Abrams - Cherry Hill/Philadelphia
Saturday, January 29, 2022

Welcome, your words about your Cooking hobby/practice are so good to hear; I hope we treat you right here and that your can slog your way through the entrenched Philly bureaucratic climate w/o too much collateral damage. I was lucky enough to have known a Librarian called Ms. Mulgrew up in Kensington in 1947; she knew exactly how to reassure the School Srs. of Notre Dame at St. Boniface at Norris Square that we were safe from the '...snares of non-Catholics'; that we could get library cards and join the Summer Reading Club w/o losing our religion. sounds hokey today but she grasped just how **to give us this opportunity. I have never forgotten and once decades later I had the chance to give her my thanks. Madeleine Mc Hugh Pierucci ** she worked the name of ".. my brother, the Dominican Friar...".I into the conversation many times...Hah; she sure knew her task!!! Librarians are the best people in the world.
madeleine - Center City-PCI branch
Saturday, January 29, 2022

Hi and welcome. Libraries are so important for our children. Please look at the newly remodeled children's room at the Boston Public Library. Magnificent!! Please keep the weekly paper bag crafts that started during COVID. My grandson loves new library books and craft time every Saturday morning. We chose to live 2 blocks from parkway Central because of the excellent programming. We love libraries! Life-long learning is a good thing.
Nancy Capizzi - Philadelphia
Sunday, January 30, 2022

Hi, Mr. Richards, in your new position as the Director, of the Main Library in Phila, Pa. Which initiatives and options would you add or bring to the schedule of events Also, I am in light of Marina D. C. concern of discrimination and behavior. I have used the computer, at this site, nearly 3 days a week for 9 months, so I observe the vibes as I come and go. Etc;
Janice Mane - Phila, Pa
Monday, January 31, 2022

Our friends at Sequential Philly used this interview to put together a book list to welcome Mr. Kelly Richards, check it out here: https://catalog.freelibrary.org/Community/lists/73952/
Alina - Philadelphia
Monday, January 31, 2022

Congratulations! We're so happy and proud for you! Jane and Dennis
Jane Richardson - Las Vegas, NN
Sunday, February 6, 2022