Free Library Foundation hires first executive director

Monique Moore Pryor brings necessary leadership and strategic skills as Free Library plans extended hours and more with Pew Grant.

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Exterior of Free Library of Philadelphia Central Branch

Free Library of Philadelphia Parkway Central Branch, 1901 Vine St. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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After being awarded a three-year, $1 million strategic planning grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Free Library of Philadelphia has recently announced two key changes to the Free Library Foundation leadership and scheduling hours at its branches.

New leadership position

In August 2023, the Free Library Foundation hired Monique Moore Pryor, Esq. as its first executive director.

Pryor, who served for five years at St. Francis College as chief engagement & external affairs officer, is a native of Philadelphia. She began the position in August, and works with Free Library Director Kelly Richards to bring new vision to the city’s libraries.

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“We’re excited to continue to increase our numbers through the more hours we have and the programming that has been in existence, that will continue to really impact us in a positive way,” Richards said.

President Richards spoke of the necessity of this new role and said hiring someone of Pryor’s experience level was a good investment.

“It just became apparent to me and speaking with the board, that it was necessary to bring on an executive director, a very skilled executive director, for the financial and endowment and donor concerns to support the free library’s mission,” he said.

Pryor holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and marketing from the University of Maryland, and a Juris Doctor from Hofstra University School of Law.

Pryor is a member of community service organizations and champions causes related to education, diversity, and social justice. Pryor looks to tackle one of the many social issues that isn’t talked about often.

“We’re in partnership with the community and with leaders to heal loneliness because loneliness leads to so many other health issues,” she said. “That’s why it’s an epidemic and on the list of top killers. Whether it is a crocheting class or an after school meal program that we have at some of the libraries or providing ‘reading time’ for the parents who need an outlet, the library is there for the entire community.”

New weekend hours

Starting this week, The Free Library will open 10 of its 54 library branches for its new Saturday extended hours initiative. “We’ll be phasing in our Saturday scheduled hours between the end of the year and the middle of January. That’s an achievement I don’t think we’ve done in anybody’s lifetime, where we have had all of our neighborhood libraries open.”

Over the last year-and-a-half, the foundation hired over 300 new employees, rebuilding and training the necessary staff for the changes to come. Richards is optimistic about its future. “It’s been a heavy lift for the organization to get ourselves up to speed to provide the level of service that’s necessary for a city our size and to meet the needs that Philadelphians want to have at community libraries open to provide library service.”

Recently, the Free Library has been able to regain its footing with a 5 days a week, 7-8 hours a day schedule, despite hurdles along the way.

“We have gotten really close to that goal. Most people don’t realize this, at some points we were averaging closing 20 branches a day and more, and that’s been going on over a decade or more,” Richards said. “Now we’re down to about one, and those closings are due to external circumstances out of our control. That’s a significant improvement that the library has had.”

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Although the internet gives us almost unlimited access to information, there would be no structure without libraries or librarians. Director Richards explained: “Most people don’t realize that with Google and Yahoo, the people who helped set up and organize how we find things on Google, specifically Yahoo at the time…that was the big one, were librarians.”

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