My Top Five Free Library Moments of 2019

By Siobhan Reardon RSS Tue, December 31, 2019

Can you believe 2019 is almost in the books? It has been a big year for us here at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and with December winding down I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on and celebrate some of my favorite moments from the last year. From new spaces to new departments and so much in between, we have a lot to be thankful for as we look ahead to 2020!

Grand Opening of the Reimagined Parkway Central Library

Back in April, we opened three bold new public spaces within the Parkway Central Library: The Robert and Eileen Kennedy Heim Center for Cultural and Civic Engagement, the Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC), and the Field Teen Center. Increasing the amount of public space from 35% (when renovations began in 2006) to 68%, the creative repurposing—conceived by the Free Library and designed by acclaimed Safdie Architects—of nearly 41,000 square feet of public and staff space was the most significant renovation since Parkway Central Library was completed in 1927. Since the opening, our customers have enjoyed utilizing the new spaces and we have loved seeing the vision come to life! Haven’t visited yet? Stop by soon!


Six-Day Service at All Locations

Thanks to an increase in the Free Library’s budget this fiscal year, we were able to hire additional staff to ensure that all neighborhood and regional libraries could open six days a week, and that change went into effect on September 21. Assisting Philadelphians of all ages and backgrounds in their own communities provides the necessary hyper-local context for the Free Library’s mission of advancing literacy, guiding learning, and inspiring curiosity. We are so grateful to Mayor Kenney as well as our libraries’ Friends Groups for making this crucial change possible.


Launch of the Languages and Learning Center (LLC)

Also in September, coinciding with Adult Education Month, we were thrilled to launch the Languages and Learning Center within Parkway Central Library: a center dedicated to supporting the individual learning goals of Philadelphia’s adults. Led by a commitment to community engagement, the Languages and Learning Center provides exceptional customer service; relevant and engaging programs and resources for adult basic education; English language learning; world language learning; and digital literacy, with much of the work supporting a crucial workforce development need in our city.


Exhibitions in the West Gallery

The Free Library recently began expanding its reach into providing quality exhibitions that inform the community around our own special collections, as well as through eye-catching design work and engaging content. This year, we were pleased to put on two exhibitions in the West Gallery at Parkway Central Library: At These Crossroads: The Legacies of Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. Du Bois and Voyages by Road and Sea (on view through August 2020), which explores the legacies of Walt Whitman and Herman Melville through contemporary voices and art. The Douglass and Du Bois exhibition was honored as an Adobe Government Creativity Awards finalist in the ‘Multichannel Campaign – Museum or Park Exhibit’ category! Every time I walk through the West Gallery hallway, I notice how many people stop to view the exhibitions, and each time I look at them I notice something new!


Staff Innovation

Here at the Free Library, we are proud to empower our staff to make suggestions, recommendations, and come up with ideas about how we can better serve the city of Philadelphia. Through programs like the Library’s Strategic Initiatives Hatching Innovation program, which allows staff to apply for microgrants to fund innovative new programs, as well as the Skills for Community-Centered Libraries training cohorts, our staff members have conceived ideas like birding backpacks for lending, community game nights, and the musical instrument collection (which turned three years old this year!), and in 2019 those innovations continued to make a difference! I am particularly excited to see the progress of the forthcoming secondment projects, in which staff will have the opportunity to step away from their day-to-day responsibilities for a limited time in order to explore new pursuits and goals with help from the Free Library. Both Andrea Zimmerman and the team of Keyonia Yates and Jason Malcom have been hard at work on their innovative projects that each seek to bolster and support the staff of the Free Library by exploring paths to librarianship and looking at the potential for different staffing models that enhance training and mentorship opportunities. I love that our staff members aren’t afraid to take risks and step outside of their comfort zones, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with in 2020!


Fine-Free Library!

How about a bonus moment? On December 11, our Board of Trustees voted to approve a measure that will eliminate most overdue fines throughout the Free Library system! Though the effective date is yet to be determined, we’re eager to welcome Philadelphians back to the Free Library, as many people may have seen fines as a barrier to access that was keeping them away. We also anticipate this new measure will lead to the return of many of our long-lost materials, so everyone can use and enjoy them! We will keep you updated on the progress of the new policy right here on the blog and on social media, so stay tuned!


What was YOUR favorite Free Library moment of 2019? Let us know in the comments!

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Realizing the old car parked in front of the library was not part of the library but an old car that the owner had not moved in 6 months.
Dennis - Donatucci, South Philadelphia
Tuesday, December 31, 2019

It was nice to meet you officially at my branch when you came to visit with your administrative assistant. It was a pleasure to meet you in person. Instead of seeing a picture of you.
Walter J Kosierowski/Partime Library Assistant 1 - Frankford Library
Friday, January 3, 2020

There are other branches besides Parkway Central. There are sections of the City besides downtown. Just because you made a 15 minute pit stop at our Library, doesn't mean you really know the branch libraries.
Kathy King
Saturday, January 4, 2020

What a productive year for the Free Library! I know many of the branches have had wonderful programming throughout the year. Richmond is my neighborhood library, and I have enjoyed many of the programs there, including the observation bee hive and the concerts with their new baby grand piano!
Jason Malcolm - Parkway Central
Tuesday, January 7, 2020

I love seeing and hearing authors that I really enjoy!! The series is wonderful Also, I look forward to visiting the Lovett Memorial Library next week for a First Person Arts program. I went to that library through my teen years when I was a student at Germantown High School. It no loger exists, but the memories sure do.
Linda Dubin Garfield - Philadelphia Main Branch
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

I suggest your proudest moments are each time you cash that massive, ill-earned paycheck
Jerry briggs - Mayfail
Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Jerry: Average CEO of an S&P 500 company is paid more in three DAYS than Siobhan gets in a year. (Look it up!) So, you're blaming _her_ for your problems? Wake up.
Lynda Lighbury - North of North Philly
Wednesday, January 15, 2020