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!
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!
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!