Supporters Demand More Funding for ‘Heart of Community' in Philadelphia, AKA Local Libraries

More than half of Philadelphia's 54 facilities that make up the Free Library system were closed for weekends, starting in September. But criticism forced officials to rethink the plan.

What to Know

  • Library officials in September announced more than half of Philadelphia's Free Library system would close on weekends.
  • Criticism and Mayor Kenney forced those officials to re-examine staffing. More funding was found to hire.
  • Advocates are demanding the system be fully opened on Saturdays, and funding levels increased to pre-Great Recession levels.

NBC10 is one of 19 news organizations producing BROKE in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

Supporters of Philadelphia's Free Library system on Wednesday handed in petitions with more than 5,000 signatures to Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council members, seeking an increase in funding that would re-open branches six days a week.

Sporadic closings of the neighborhood libraries throughout the city occurred some 750 times last year, advocates said.

The budget for city libraries, funded through city and local revenue, remains about $7 million below pre-Great Recession levels, according to the Friends of the Free Library.

The group calculated that the Free Library, which is comprised of the Central Branch, three regional branches and 50 neighborhood libraries, should received about $50 million in city funding annually, if using 2007 budget figures adjusted for inflation.

Instead, the group said, the library received about $41.2 million.

"The library is generally the heart of the community," one advocate, Yvette Hill Robinson, of Overbrook Park, said at City Hall. "It’s a part of their everyday life, their weekend life. It's more than just books, references. It’s also a place [people] have friendship in general."

Hill Robinson said it also is an integral part of weekend life for many families in Philadelphia.

"It’s not just going to a library to have a book," she said of children who spend weekends at neighborhood branches. "If it’s closed on a Saturday, they don’t know what to do."

Kenney said in a statement that the city has restored funding to pre-recession levels, and added that "the City is investing in restoring library faciluities through Rebuild."

Rebuild is the mayor's signature program for renovating city-owned neighborhood facilities across Philadelphia..

“Our Administration continues to work with Library leadership to find solutions using existing resources to ensure that all 54 branches will offer Saturday hours during the school year by next fiscal year," Kenney said in the statement. "In fact, last month we identified ways to bring 12 additional libraries to six-day service without allocating new funds."

In November, the mayor talked with library officials as criticism mounted in light of the closings at city branches throughout 2018. Officials then declared that staffing levels would be increased.

His involvement, and the criticism, came on the heels of the library system's announced Saturday closures of more than half the facilities in late September.

Contact Us