As patrons may know, the Free Library has been expanding staffing efforts throughout the library system in recent months. With all the hiring excitement, there’s a mix of both new and familiar faces in all of the branches, and you might be wondering what some of these folks do. Introducing "Faces of the Free Library" — an interview series intended to introduce library staff to the public and highlight the important work they do every day.
For the first installment, meet Rebecca!
Rebecca works in the Science and Wellness department at Parkway Central Library. She began her love affair with books from an early age, thanks to her father taking her to the bookstore on their weekend shore trips to Cape May. Rebecca studied Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management at Penn State before attending the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York. From there, Rebecca went on to receive her baking certificate from the Culinary Institute in St. Helena, California. She worked in a bakery from 4 a.m.–12 p.m. and rented movies from her local library on her days off. When she saw that the library was hiring, she immediately applied for and got the job of Library Assistant.
After five years in California, Rebecca’s friends approached her about returning east to open “Le Bec Fin 2.0” and she jumped at the opportunity to join them — with the library still in the back of her mind. She began volunteering at the Philadelphia City Institute branch and within two years took a part-time seasonal Library Assistant position there, all the while working at various restaurants and bakeries. While juggling her culinary career, Rebecca always made sure her employers knew her commitment to the library.
When Rebecca was promoted to full-time Library Assistant at Queen Memorial Library, she began her journey toward a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. She was working full-time at Whitman Library when COVID hit but still managed to finish her Master’s in 2022. From there, she was promoted to Children’s Librarian at Frankford Library. When the Frankford branch closed for renovations, she reached out about a position at Parkway Central (the “mothership” library, as she calls it) and found her home at Science and Wellness, where she truly enjoys working every day.
What is your role with the Free Library of Philadelphia?
My role at the Free Library is as a Librarian 2. I am an Aquaponics Steward to our department fish — Cyan Whale-ness — here in Science and Wellness on the second floor in the Parkway Central branch.
I was so inspired by my department that I have several programs happening here. I inherited a propagation station from Philly Plant Exchange that looked really dour. I threw up some Christmas lights, added my Back to the Roots three-gallon water tank, and sprinkled a few more pots with soil and seeds to take a gamble with turning my “black” thumb into a sort of “green” one. This led to me pondering what to do with the various seeds that I had no space to grow with. I grabbed a few empty card catalogs and researched how to start a free seed library. I wrote to 15–20 herb and plant companies about our concept and the Free Library’s mission statement to inspire curiosity, guide learning, and build an enlightened community dedicated to lifelong learning. The donations came rolling in. Now we have had 500+ To-Go and Grow checkouts varying from Europe (Italy, France, Lithuania, and Germany) and throughout America (Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, North Carolina, and Florida).
Sew What?! is the name of a hugely successful program that we have here two times a week! It started at Whitman and Frankford branches, meagerly, and then progressed to Science and Wellness, where it has thrived and grown to 15–20 people ages seven to 75 gathering to craft and make friends.
What is the most rewarding aspect of the work you do?
The most rewarding aspect is inspiring patrons to create in a program such as Sew What?! There are "proud parent" moments when a patron has finished a long project or finished learning a new technique. I love to catch that moment and see their faces beam in accomplishment. I savor the feedback from my To-Go and Grow Free Seed Library when someone has successfully grown plants or herbs and returns to share their experience and grow some more! I relish every chance to show off our department with its many facets and sections about cooking, mental health, physical health, animals, physics, and astronomy … the list goes on!
What are your favorite library resources, services, or programs that you think more people should know about?
I think the public should learn more about our awesome and varied databases that are included with their library card for free. There is an amazing music database called Alexander Street (or Music Online) that has any kind of music you are looking for. The Jazz selection alone has 13,023 albums, Contemporary World albums have 19,975, and Popular music has 22,000; to name a few. There is Mango Languages for language learning, DMV driving tests are online for studying, and Universal Class is terrific for learning a new hobby or practicing an old one.
What do you believe is the most significant role that libraries play in our community?
The most significant role that libraries play in a community is assisting a patron in learning a new skill. It can be as simple as learning to scan a document and use a USB drive or to finish that online application for something complicated. The library promotes furthering education like getting a GED or finishing college. Then we even hold your hand to help with writing a resume and job searches. We use our facilities to help make friends through fun programming. Our libraries allow patrons to use our facilities to promote community support and awareness of topics near and dear to them. I see libraries as a beacon of support, inspiration, and a free safe haven.
What are your favorite genres of books to read?
My favorite genre to read is Thriller or Nordic Noir. I love a good Mark Greaney Gray Man novel series or anything by husband-and-wife team Lars Kepler.
What was the last book you read that you couldn’t put down?
The last book I could not put down and had to read the ending twice was The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides. The ending really threw me off in a good way, and that is usually a hard thing to do.
Do you have any tips or advice for someone interested in pursuing a career in library services?
I started as a volunteer and then spent a long time as a Library Assistant and it took me nowhere. After I got my Masters, I shot up through the ranks and can achieve a lot more with the degree. The Masters also taught me to regiment my time, scan to read the important parts when I have 20 pages of an article to read, work well with others (albeit virtually), and many other lessons unique to the various classes I took. The library helped pay for some of it, I was able to do some of my work at work since it was related, and I used my experiences already earned from working in the libraries to write many papers on library topics.
What do you love most about living in Philly?
What I love most about Philly is the friendly people and the atmosphere, the great food and restaurants, the 54 libraries, the town is very walkable, and SEPTA is great. I also love that Philly is a stone’s throw from DE-NJ-NY and the Eagles! Go Birds!