Free Library Tour Guides Use Map Collection to Celebrate This Year's Volunteer Appreciation Day!

By Andrew W. RSS Mon, April 20, 2020

At 54 neighborhood libraries and the Rosenbach, Free Library volunteers embody the institution's vision of "an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning" every day. While the library is now a more virtual experience during our current pause, let's take a look at how a segment of Free Library volunteers are keeping engaged in a time of social distancing.

From 2014 till this past March, Parkway Central Library tour guides have given tours of the Free Library's flagship location Monday through Saturday at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. The tour covers Parkway Central's history, architecture, inspired past, and dynamic present. It is a proud example of a Free Library program that is not only staffed by volunteers, but was also created by volunteers! Initially, Free Library volunteer and retired engineer Linda Blythe took a tour of the Seattle Library, and thought it was interesting, but felt that Philadelphia had "a lot more to show!" When Linda returned, she and then-Director of Volunteer Services Kenn Manns laid the groundwork for our current tour.

Now, Free Library tour guides are using their days at home to build the template for a new tour, one that spills from Parkway Central Library into our "front yard" of Logan Square, using our Map Collection as their guide and the Map Overlay Tool to shows Logan Square at different eras.

The planned route will start at the library's front steps, head down Vine Street to Sister Cities Park, circle to the Logan Hotel, and return through the square back to the Free Library. Tour guides have been researching the history of Logan Square, its native plants and animals, its original inhabitants, its life as an industrial neighborhood, the introduction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway into William Penn's grid, and its current institutions and public art. Along the way, they have been sifting through competing definitions of statues and sculptures, monuments and memorials, and have uncovered some fascinating information, including:

  • Logan Square was once a mingling of northern and southern forest types, dominated by various species of oak and American Chestnut.
  • In 1825, "Northwest Square" was renamed for James Logan, William Penn's secretary, and mayor of Philadelphia in 1722. A known bibliophile, Logan was asked by Ben Franklin to select the first books for his Library Company, a subscription library supported by paying shareholders, and the first successful lending library in the U.S.
  • At the eastern edge of the park, Robert Indiana's AMOR sculpture (1998) was created as a Latin/Spanish version of his iconic LOVE sculpture (1976). Indiana described AMOR as a response to the changing demographics of the U.S. and his desire to speak to all Americans.

Volunteer tour guides would like to premiere this new tour tentatively in the Fall.

Free Library volunteer tour guides are an inspiring group of lifelong learners, motivated to share the cultural riches of Philadelphia with locals and visitors, free of charge. It's exciting to see them delve into the history of Logan Square and build an engaging and enlightening tour. In this time of separation, they're giving us all something to look forward to!

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