Designed by Julian Abele, an African American architect in Horace Trumbauer’s firm, the Central Library first opened its doors on June 2, 1927. As an anchor cultural and educational institution on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Central Library welcomes over 1 million visitors each year from the city, its countryside, and around the world. Our patrons come to learn from our public events, to consult our special collections, and to tap the expertise of our librarians and curators in each of the subject departments and special collections. On most days, volunteer docents offer architectural walks through the building. By appointment, our librarians offer orientations to the intellectual arrangement of the building, as well as organized lessons and activities for schools, universities, and other communities of learning. Use this guide to explore one of the world’s finest public libraries on your own.
Ground Floor [browsing map]
Public restrooms for adults and a separate facility for young children are located on the Ground Floor.
Follow the little foot prints to begin your explorations where most Philadelphians begin their experience of the Parkway Central Library, in the Children’s Department. Programming varies from storytimes for our littlest patrons to homework help for adolescents. From board books to graphic novels, children of all ages will find books to captivate. Adults and children alike will enjoy our collection of vintage Children’s Book Week posters lining the hallways and see our original N.C. Wyeth paintings that illustrate famous children’s books hanging throughout the department.
- By appointment: Individual researchers or classes with an interest in the history, study, or development of children’s literature will find the Children’s Literature Research Collection (CLRC) an invaluable resource. CLRC houses over 85,000 non-circulating items from the 1830’s through present in several distinct collections.
- Coming soon: Renovations over the coming years will bring an expanded Teen Department. Our current Teen Center is located on the 1st Floor within Philbrick Hall. Our Business Resource and Innovation Center will also have a new home on this level.
- Behind the scenes: Montgomery Auditorium is a 378 seat lecture hall and performance stage hosting our award winning Author Event series, our Teen Author Series, and numerous ad hoc performances, lectures, film screenings and more organized by our subject department librarians. Administrative offices for our Information Technology unit, and our city-wide Youth Services and Programming Division are also located on this level.
First Floor [browsing map]
Philbrick Hall is our beautifully restored fiction and popular culture library and central circulation department. Thousands of Philadelphians every year sign up for their first library cards here. Philbrick Hall is home of our Teen Center, which not only provides a robust library of young adult fiction and nonfiction but also organizes numerous activities for teenagers. Library patrons can also access the Interlibrary Loan Department at the information desk. ILL helps Philadelphians borrow library materials and research articles not owned by the Free Library from cooperating libraries across the continental United States. If it were its own library branch it would be among the busiest in our system, which is a tremendous testament to resource sharing.
The Music Department is a conservatory-quality music library serving musicians and music fans of all ages and skill levels. It lends chamber music part-sets, musical instruments, and has a sheet music collection spanning the entire history of music publishing in the new world. Its listening stations may be used to enjoy any of the tens of thousands of reference recordings on CD and LP spanning the entire history of music. Its Drinker Collection is a library of sacred and secular music for choral performances of over 900 works, which circulate to member ensembles around the globe.
The Government Publications Department (GPD) is the largest depository of Federal, State, and Municipal publications in the metropolitan area. As renovations proceed, researchers tap the collection and the expertise of the librarians from the Social Science & History Department on the 2nd Floor. A fraction of the department’s extensive holdings of publications are stored in this room.
Central Senior Services organizes a rich menu of compelling and intellectually challenging programs for older adults, as well as a comfortable lounge for seniors to access computers and leisure reading. One-on-one computering tutoring for those 50+ is available by appointment.
- By appointment: The Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music—the world’s largest lending library of orchestral performance part sets—offers more than 21,000 titles, and is a significant center for research into the professional lives of composers and conductors of the 19th and 20th centuries.
- Coming soon: Renovations will bring a new public lounge space for noisier collaborative work called the Common.
- Behind the scenes: the main administrative offices for the Free Library system and the Central Library line the western end of the building.
Second Floor [browsing map]
The Social Science & History Department achieves what the name implies: a library dedicated to linking all of the social science disciplines with the study of history and geography. It also holds significant collections of books on sports, games, travel, and true crime. Researchers can also access the expertise of the Government Publications Librarians and the Newspaper Research librarians from this reference desk.
- By appointment: The Map Collection houses the most comprehensive collection of maps and geographically related reference sources in the Philadelphia area. Within the collection can be found over 130,000 current and historical maps covering every area of the world, hundreds of reference sources in the fields of cartography, cartobibliography, geography, place names, and a collection of city plans worldwide. The collection is especially strong in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania maps and atlases.
The Business Resource and Innovation Center (BRIC) offers an extensive collection of print resources and databases for entrepreneurs, small-business owners, and nonprofits as well as business workshops and networking events. Students and researchers can also access information on health, the natural sciences, home economics, labor, and the trades via our business center at any time. The BRIC contains numerous specialized library services and collections. The Patent & Trademark Resource Center (PTRC) within the BRIC is one of three in the state of Pennsylvania designated by the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) to support the public with trademarks and patents. Librarians in the PTRC can demonstrate search techniques, direct patrons to information, and explain the application process. The Regional Foundation Center provides local nonprofit organizations with free access to information and workshops on management, grant seeking, fund development, and proposal writing. Appointments are highly recommended.
The Education, Philosophy, & Religion Department collects print and electronic information on broad spectrum of education, philosophy, religion, psychology, and librarianship topics. College financial aid information, test preparation material, and vo-tech information are all available here. Workplace, a project of EPR, assists job seekers with gaining the tools necessary to find work.
The Literature Department contains over 100,000 volumes on literary theory, literary criticism, poetry, drama, essays, biographies of writers, folklore, journalism, dictionaries and language and linguistics, as well as foreign literature in translation. It also has the largest Shakespeare collection in the Pennsylvania, as well as an extensive collection of modern drama.
The Art Department maintains a comprehensive collection of over 60,000 books on the fine arts, architecture, garden design, interior design, fashion, graphic arts, crafts, collectibles, and photography. Librarians maintain a rich set of files on artists, architects, designers and collectors, and the art & architecture of Philadelphia. Exhibitions of work by local artist groups or material from our collections are always on display in our hallway gallery.
- By appointment: The Print and Picture Collection is home to diverse collections of fine art prints, photographs, drawings, and artists’ books, as well as extensive research collections of Philadelphia images, both historical and modern.
The Newspapers & Microfilm Center is our region’s largest collection of American newspapers from the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Over 400 Philadelphia newspapers are on microfilm dating back to 1720. Our collection includes newspapers from major cities around the world, local community papers, as well as microfilmed versions of academic, underground, and trade periodicals from the subject departments. Students and the curious should begin their research process by inquiring within the Social Science & History Department.
The Rare Book Department offers free access to rotating exhibitions of historically important books, manuscripts, and works of art from 3,000 BCE to today that patrons can visit Monday through Saturday, 9:00 a.m. through 5:00 p.m. Among its collections are thousands of illuminated medieval manuscripts and cuttings; first editions, letters, and manuscripts of important writers, including some of the largest collections of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe; nearly 50,000 early American children's books; original artwork by Beatrix Potter, Robert Lawson, the Red Rose Girls, and other illustrators; Mughal court paintings; and Pennsylvania German fraktur, manuscripts, and printed books. For an optional deeper look at these extraordinary collections, take the 11:00 a.m. tour, offered Monday through Saturday.
- Behind the Scenes: The Theatre Collection contains information on theatre, motion pictures, television, radio, variety shows, the circus, and other forms of popular entertainment. A major focus is Philadelphia's theatrical history. There are over one million books, magazines, playbills, photographs, posters, film and stage stills, reviews, clipping files and memorabilia. Some material dates back to the 19th century.
- By appointment: Researchers interested in consulting materials held by the Rare Book Department or the Theatre Collection can schedule an appointment in the reading room. The Rare Book Department also regularly hosts and teaches classes to small groups of all ages. Contact a librarian for details.
The Fourth Floor primarily consists of event spaces and meeting rooms that are only open during public programs. Our Skyline Terrace incorporates one of the first municipal green roofs in Philadelphia. The 4th Floor is also the home of our The Culinary Literacy Center. The CLC is a commercial-grade kitchen that serves as a classroom and educational dining space for Philadelphians of all ages, stations, and abilities. The librarians and food educators of the CLC design and execute a wide variety of programs serving the entire city.