29 weeks, 374.25 miles, 56 libraries*.
That’s the tremendous endeavor Free Library patron and supporter Carolyn Redmond accomplished during the COVID-19 pandemic—to travel to all of the Free Library’s neighborhood libraries on foot, while the buildings were closed to the public in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions and safety concerns.
The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation caught up with Carolyn to learn more about her project and about her library story. Read more to meet Carolyn!
What inspired you to complete this endeavor?
I initially had the idea back in 2019. One of my friend’s mothers was a career librarian, and when she retired, I thought it would be fun to run to the branches of Philadelphia’s library system as a tribute to her work. I reached out to a Free Library staff member last year and got a map of all the neighborhood libraries.
As a runner, I often create running goals like this in an effort to stay motivated. I had previously participated in an ultra-marathon, which is any footrace longer than the traditional marathon length (26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers) and was registered to tackle my first 50-miler in May, but I canceled my registration to that race due to COVID-19 concerns. I opted instead to do a virtual marathon of approximately 620 miles in 4 months "across the state of Tennessee", so running to the Free Library locations was a perfect way to tackle that mileage.
How did it go?
Great! And tiring! While the initial plan was to run to all the locations out-and-back from home (totaling around 580 miles), my body let me know a few weeks in that it was not going to cooperate. So I pivoted my plan and chose to go on long walks to some of the locations instead. Or, I would drive to where a few branches were clustered together and then run a loop past them all to end up back at my car. It was definitely harder than I expected, especially as I hit the summer months. I kept a spreadsheet to keep track of which libraries I visited and seeing the number remaining tick down helped to motivate me along the way.
Was there anything that you learned about the Free Library while completing this project?
It was interesting to see the difference in the architecture between all the different libraries. Carnegie, mid-century, all across the board! From time to time, I also ran into some groundskeepers (those at Thomas F. Donatucci, Sr. Library and Oak Lane Library come to mind) and got to learn a little about the branch itself from the volunteers and staff. Did you know they maintain a beehive at Richmond Library?!?
I also reflected on just how much the Free Library provides to its patrons. In addition to reading and viewing materials, the library is a great place for people to access computers and work on job applications. It’s a safe and reliable spot to be during the day. The English language, culinary arts, and children’s programming are top-notch. We’re really lucky to have the Free Library.
What’s your library story?
I grew up in Central New Jersey, and the library was a resource that was readily accessible and available to me. I grew up going to the library to get new books to read, and I also loved puzzle books and crossword books. I would also go to the library to participate in other activities, like arts and crafts sessions, Girl Scouts' meetings, and summer camps. It was a big part of my childhood.
What is your neighborhood library and what do you love about it?
I live in Northern Liberties—the Ramonita G. de Rodriguez Library on 6th and Girard is my neighborhood library. I also frequently used Fishtown Community Library and Independence Library as working hubs back when I was self-employed. Now, I’ve been using the Libby app to borrow ebooks. I’m in a book club with friends and it’s so easy to add books to my shelf whenever one comes up in conversation. I usually get it in time to read for the next meeting when we’ll be discussing it. It’s so easy! I also watch a lot of the culinary literacy videos that the Library posts and recently took Gaby Melian’s "pastel de papa" class. It was awesome!
You’re also a donor to the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation—thank you for your support! What motivates you to support the Free Library?
Growing up loving the library and seeing how many resources the Free Library aims to provide, supporting the Free Library felt like the right thing to do. I support as many public service organizations and arts organizations as I can, especially during this time of the COVID-19 pandemic in the city.
Thank you Carolyn for sharing this project with us and for supporting the Free Library! As a monthly donor, she provides consistent support that helps secure the future of favorite programs like LEAP and allows the Free Library to sustain and build other essential programs for children and other Free Library visitors.
You can learn more about Carolyn’s travels by checking out her posts on Facebook. You can also view her profile on Strava for the specific routes she took to visit all of our locations.
*Carolyn also visited The Rosenbach and the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, in addition to the Free Library’s 54 neighborhood library locations.