The 12-year reign as head of the Free Library of Philadelphia is over for Siobhan Reardon following demands for her resignation recently from Black employees of the citywide system.
The library's 54 branches have been shut down since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but employees returned to work two weeks ago to initiate the return of services by the end of July, a spokeswoman told NBC10 this week.
A group of library employees called Concerned Black Workers of the Free Library of Philadelphia had begun calling for Reardon's resignation or firing by the library's board of trustees over what they described as long-running inequities within the staff ranks. The group also complained of a lack of safety protocols to protect them from the threat of coronavirus contagion in the workplace. They never received a response from Reardon or the board of trustees, they said.
Mayor Jim Kenney said "after hearing calls for reform from Library employees and the public, it is clear that a change in leadership is necessary during these unprecedented times."
He said his administration will work with the library's board to find a replacement.
"Our administration stands in solidarity with the Free Library’s Black employees, and the countless others who have made their voices heard," Kenney said. "More than ever, people across the nation — and right here in Philadelphia — are demanding changes from institutions and those in power."
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Reardon has not responded to requests for comment since Monday. Thursday night, the Free Library released part of her letter to the Board of Trustees.
"It has been an incredible 12 years full of highs and lows, and we have achieved much during this time," she wrote.
"There is still much work to do toward reaching the Library's vision of building an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning. I am sure that the next generation of leadership will get us even closer. I look forward to watching that happen and will continue to be supportive of this wonderful institution going forward."
Reardon and the library's board of trustees faced criticism from the Concerned Black Workers for failing to respond to the group's concerns about reopening plans since they first wrote a letter to the library leadership last month.
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 told NBC10 this week that 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."
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 by the end of July, 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."
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 Monday 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."
The last update about the system's reopening plans posted to the website is a July 3 message from Reardon. 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.