I Saw Philadelphia Through the Eyes of the Free Library

By Kate C. RSS Tue, December 27, 2016

It was about this time last year that I met my husband for lunch at Reading Terminal Market. It was a particularly cold afternoon, so instead of making the walk, I drove. I passed Parkway Central Library first, of course, coming from my office on Hamilton Street. As I struggled to find parking, I ended up also passing the Independence Library and the Library for the Blind & Physically Handicapped.

In that moment, I had an idea: If I just saw three of our locations in 10 minutes, I wonder how long it would take to see all of them. Was it possible to do it in all in one day? What would that day be like? What would I learn on my way? Should I try? Has anyone done it before? Is that CRAZY?!

Fast forward to almost a year later, and I did it.

I teamed up with my husband, who happens to work in the video field, and was able to produce something professional looking—we had lights and everything! We chose Monday, October 3, a day that started off cloudy and damp but turned bright and warm, with enough sun at that time of year to get us through most of the libraries during daylight hours without being oppressively hot and sticky.

And off we went.

We set out from our home, all 54 neighborhood library locations plugged into a mapping program that had given us our "optimal" route—which, at times, didn’t make sense. We started at 7:30 a.m. at the Fumo Family Library on South Broad Street, before hitting a few of other South Philly and Center City library locations, expanding outward in what were essentially two big circles. We stopped at each library for no more than a minute or two. Particularly in the beginning, we were nervous that we wouldn’t be able to get to all of them if we didn’t hustle, even though the map estimated it would only take 7 hours (HA!!). If I knew an interesting fact about that particular library, I mentioned it on camera; otherwise, we documented where we were, got some shots of the surrounding area, and kept moving.

By the time we stopped for a lunch break in the Northeast, we had just visited the Bushrod Library, one of the few that my dad remembers visiting as a child. It was 1:00 p.m. by that point in the day and we had visited 25 of the 54 neighborhood library locations in five and a half hours. Despite getting tired and the temperature rising, we picked up our pace after lunch and by the time we reached the Greater Olney Library at 3:30 p.m.—with 19 libraries left to go—I was confident we were going to do it.

We closed out the day with visits to Kensington, McPherson Square, Richmond, and Fishtown libraries, and finally, Parkway Central. In all, it took 12 hours. I ran up the front steps at our 1901 Vine Street location in true Rocky fashion, just after 7:30 p.m. We drove 115 miles in total in my husband’s Ford Focus, but what will stick with me about this crazy journey isn’t merely the checklist I kept, marking off each library we saw as I grew ever more delirious. What I'll remember is that in one day, I saw every corner of our great city—many of which I had never seen before—and I saw it through the eyes of the Free Library. I think that’s amazing.

That’s the reason I really wanted to do this—to show that under the Free Library of Philadelphia umbrella and the guidance of our President and Executive Director Siobhan Reardon, the Free Library is set up to reach all Philadelphians. Sure, the neighborhoods are vastly different, have vastly different needs, and are made up of people from many different walks of life. It may feel, sometimes, like they don’t have anything in common at all. But they do. All 54 of those libraries operate with the same mission in mind: to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity in the people that use them, whether they visit once or every single day. Visiting all of them in one day reminded me that maybe they’re not so different after all.

In the new year, we hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit Free Library locations you haven’t visited before! Hey, if I can see them all in one day, you can check a few off your list in a whole year! Get started now!

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You forgot the Tacony LAB! We're the only 21st Century Library with a satellite location!
Suzin Weber - Tacony LAB, 6918 Torresdale Ave. (just a block and a half up the street from Tacony Branch)
Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Amazing! So much lit love in Philly!
Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Thank you for doing this. I worked at many of those branches before my retirement, but there were also many that I had never seen. Now I have to go visiting.
Kathryn Specht - Bridesburg
Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I was reminded recently about the incredible work our Free Library does. One cold morning I arrived at the Free Library on the Parkway, just prior to opening. There were a few dozen men waiting to get in. I surmised that most of them had come from a few homeless shelters. When the doors opened, the security guard welcomed them, many by name, often with fist bumps and pats on the back. At my own, beloved Independence Branch, I regularly see the marginalized, there to use the computers to look for jobs, with a printer available at nominal cost. I've seen neighborhood high school kids pouring over SAT prep books.While on line to check out some books and music CDs, a young person began chatting with me about my music choices. She admitted she plays for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Our public libraries have evolved over my lifetime, but they have remained steadfast homes for all that is good in our urban environment. Many thanks to Sioban Reardon and all our neighborhood librarians and library staff for all they do.
Ivy L Barsky - Philadelphia
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ivy, thank you so much for sharing!
Kate C. - Philadelphia
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Congrats on visiting them all. What a wonderful adventure!
Chris K. - University City
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Kate & Kevin -- so cool! What an adventure and awesome day to have had! It is a great city!! xoxo Aunt Rosemary
Rosemary Cassidy - West Chester, PA
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What an Excellent Idea!!! Great Video! It looks like you had a lot of fun :-)
Leaona - Philadelphia
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I, too, have worked at a number of our libraries--it was lovely to see them all tucked among the rest! Thanks for the tour.
Sara P. - Kensington
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Loved the video! I miss seeing all the wonderful things our system can do!
Gina Sigal - Philadelphia
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Awesome adventure! I've been to more than half, but you did them all! That's great! Thanks for sharing this adventure. I know it was exhausting, but it looked like fun. You deserved that cheesesteak...:-)
Darren C. - West Philadelphia
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What would Philadelphia be like without the Free Library of Philadelphia? I do not wish to find out! By the way, I am still working on fulfilling my dream of visiting all the branches. (Fraction Covered: 21/54)
Anthony Oshomah Ali - Philadelphia
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Free Library of Philadelphia is a gem in the city. It is used by so many residents and an important resource in all neighborhoods. The elephant in the room is horrible service in many of the locations. The way that personnel push you out of the buildings at 20 minutes until the time they close is abhorrent. Most people I know say they should changed the times for closing to 20 minutes before the posted time since you will never be able to finish any work until 5 minutes before closing. It is also the rude way people push you out that is an issue, or the indifferent way some personnel treat you when you ask questions. You learn to go to certain people who are "nice" and avoid asking others so not to get frustrated. If you poll customers about this you will find you have a huge problem with this. (it appears the personnel are more concerned with leaving directly at the time of closing than customer service)
Maurice Jones - West Philadelphia
Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Fantastic! Reminds me some years back a Mom and her daughter, as a summer time project, visited every branch of the Free Library and getting the children's librarian at each location to put the branch stamp on their summer reading game folder. By the end of August they had actually stopped in every location and got her folder stamped! I remember Elliot Shelkrot, former Director, held a photo op with the child and her Mom and gave the child a handshake, congratulations, and a very nice certificate noting the accomplishment.
Jeff Bullard - Overbrook Farms
Thursday, December 29, 2016

Wonderful introduction and informational to the Phila library stations. Well done! My friend and I went on the library bus tour this past summer that covered about four of them in various indiginous parts of our fair city and learned much.
Monica Rozin - Rittenhouse
Friday, December 30, 2016

As a life long library friend and advocate and former FFL community organizer, I had the pleasure to visit all 54 branches and to work with hundreds of library patrons, friends and volunteers across diverse neighborhoods. None more true than in 2008 when we galvanized the entire city to save 11 of our treasured institutions of learning from closure including my Andrew Carnegie historic Holmesburg Branch.
Karen D. Lash - Philadelphia
Monday, January 2, 2017

This was fantastic! I would love to know how many of the 54 libraries are still located in Carnegie library buildings.
Heather - Northwest Philadelphia
Monday, January 2, 2017

Hi Heather, you can read about the Carnegie Libraries in this blog post from 2015: https://libwww.freelibrary.org/blog/post/2271
Samantha M. - Philadelphia, PA
Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Great Adventure! Congratulations!!! This venture is an inspiration to many who love reading, learning, exploring new regimes and like to soar high....Good Luck.
IVY MATHEWS - Philadelphia
Monday, January 9, 2017

OMG! What a fantastic tour Katie gave us! The video was great, Katie's youthful enthusiasm made the video go by so quickly! Excellent job!!
Evelyn - NE Philly
Tuesday, January 17, 2017

It's nice to see promotion is that is not just about the big pretty flagship library! Libraries are embedded, part of our communities that are not just fun to have but necessary everywhere.
Spenser Thompson - San Francisco
Saturday, April 1, 2017

Great fun! Wonderful way to introduce the system. Thank you!!!
Ignatius Wang - Chestnut Hill
Friday, April 7, 2017

Hi Kate. Wonderful video! It inspired us at Berks County Public Libraries to continue the conversation and record our own "Library Crawl." Our member libraries are spread all throughout Berks County, and we wanted to give our residents a chance to see them all.
Emily Orischak - Reading
Wednesday, August 16, 2017

That is awesome, Emily!
Kate C. - Philadelphia
Wednesday, August 16, 2017