Philadelphia's citywide library system, shut down since mid-March, is expected to restart its mission of lending books by the end of July.
Employees of the Free Library, which consists of 54 branches across the city, recently returned to work to get the system ready to begin book pickups and to receive returned materials, a spokeswoman said.
"The Free Library and its staff are working to create a safe Free Library experience for all, and following federal, state, health, and local guidelines to help manage the spread of COVID-19," spokeswoman Kaitlyn Foti Kalosy said Monday. "Some staff has returned to neighborhood libraries to prepare for increased services starting in July, including open book drops and library materials pick-up."
Two employees of the library system said Tuesday that branches have begun allowing for library patrons to schedule appointments to pick up books previously requested. Branch staff members first reported for duty on June 29, they said.
Foti Kalosy said library members who placed holds on books prior to the pandemic shutdown have been notified that they can now pick up the books at 20 branch locations. She added that "new holds or requests for materials are not being accepted at this time."
In an initial email, she wrote that "dates for these services and for reopening our locations to the public will be determined once we are certain all measures are in place to protect our staff and our customers. Up-to-date information on the Library’s services will be posted on freelibrary.org."
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The last update about the system's reopening plans posted to the website is a July 3 message from Siobhan A. Reardon, director and president of the Free Library. It does not mention any reopening plans slated for the end of July.
The branches shut down on March 15 as the coronavirus pandemic began to hit Philadelphia. They have not reopened since. The city has been in a "modified green phase" of Pennsylvania's reopening protocol since July 6, and even workout gyms were allowed to reopen Monday.
Meanwhile, Reardon and the library's board of trustees have come under fire by a group of library employees called Concerned Black Workers of the Free Library for failing to respond to the group's concerns about reopening plans.
Fred Ginyard and Andrea Lemoins, who work for the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, the system's philanthropic arm, said the Concerned Black Workers wrote to Reardon and the board on June 25 with six demands. Lemoins said the demands addressed a safe reopening that would "make sure not only Black workers' are taken care of, but also that the Black community is."
They say their letter went unanswered. Adding insult to what they describe as a snub by library leadership, a letter written to the board of trustees by a group of library employees undersigned as "Free Library Non-Black Staff" in support of the Concerned Black Workers received a response within two days, Lemoins and Ginyard said.
"The board of trustees for the library did not reach out to us. Instead, they responded in a letter to non-black staff who said they support us," Lemoins said. "Our non black mostly white co-workers who wrote a letter last Friday (July 17), and they got a response on Sunday."
Ginyard said he believes it's time for the Free Library to find a new mission -- one that concentrates on improving technology and access at the city's dozens of neighborhood libraries -- and new leaders.
"At this point, with nothing happening now and how this conversation has happened multiple times over the last couple years with no results, we need new leadership," Ginyard said. "That includes everyone from the board of trustees and at the executive director level and her leadership."