September 12, 2014

Philadelphia Free Library receives a 25-million-dollar grant to modernize and renovate



Screen Shot 2014-09-12 at 5.09.51 PMThe Philadelphia Free Library has received the largest grant in the library’s year 120-year history from the William Penn Foundation, which is “dedicated to improving the quality of life in the Greater Philadelphia region through efforts that increase educational opportunities for children from low-income families.”

25 million dollars will be awarded to the Free Library over three years, and will go toward renovations of the Parkway Central Library, efforts to modernize branch libraries throughout the city, and the funding of community partnerships with the city’s schools. The grant is part of an initiative called Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries, which hopes to bridge the historical role of a library (“a hub for learning, reading, and research”) to what the Free Library envisions to be its modern-day expanded role (“a central resource in every neighborhood in Philadelphia, serving as a portal to learning, public services, economic opportunity, recreation, and community engagement”).

“The Free Library was originally built around the simple goal of community enlightenment, and throughout the years, has evolved to meet the public’s expanding need for knowledge,” said Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia. “But now those needs have far outpaced our infrastructure, and we must evolve and expand in physical space and programmatic outreach. Through Building Inspiration, we can now advance and extend the capabilities of our libraries to serve our communities in greater ways than ever before. With soaring new spaces and deep, dynamic programming, we can now further our commitment to being a highly flexible, outward-facing, community-focused organization. This is not just a physical transformation—it’s a deeply human one.”

As part of the plans to modernize and update the library, several floors of book storage stacks at the Parkway Central Library branch will be torn out, and the new building design includes 40,000 square feet of space, “most of which will be used for a new small-business and entrepreneurial center.”

It will be interesting to see if those developments lead to any protest or criticism from the public since the destruction of historic stacks and the question of the public’s immediate accessibility to books were main objections to New York Public Library’s Central Library Plan. Perhaps in an effort to pacify any concern, the press release from the library includes a note that all of the books from those storage stacks will be accessible to the public from the Library’s Regional Resource and Operations Center—but that means it may take up to 48 hours from a request for a patron to receive a book.


Claire Kelley is a the former Director of Library and Academic Marketing.