Free Library initiative to ‘cluster’ libraries to better address community needs

 The inside of Lovett Library in Mt. Airy (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks, file)

The inside of Lovett Library in Mt. Airy (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks, file)

It’s been more than two years since Mt. Airy learned Lovett Memorial Library had been selected as a prototype branch in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s 21st Century Libraries Initiative. And at Lovett’s community meeting Monday evening, representatives from the Free Library of Philadelphia provided a much awaited update.

The 21st Century Libraries Initiative, which comes by way of an historic $25 million dollar gift from the William Penn Foundation is comprised of three key components.

The renovation and expansion of the Parkway Central Library
The restoration and modernization of neighborhood libraries across the city
The strengthening of community partnerships — particularly with the city’s schools — to best meet the diverse needs of all Philadelphians.

Joe Benford of the Free Library led Monday’s presentation, which spoke more to the internal changes going on within the library than to the external ones.

“Part of the concept of the 21s Century Initiative involves not just renovated, highly technological libraries, but a whole new service model that clusters our neighborhood libraries into groups of anywhere between  six to eight libraries that provides more concentrated service to the smaller communities,” Benford said.

Under the new model, the libraries, and library staff, within each cluster will work closely and interchangeably so to highlight the strengths and support the weaknesses of each individual branch. “

“We see each cluster working as almost its own library system,” Benford said, explaining that a “cluster leader” will oversee the operations of each cluster. “Each cluster will have an employee working as a ‘mini Siobhan Reardon,'” he said. Reardon is the FLP’s president and director.

The intention of the FLP’s new cluster system is to respond more closely and intimately to the changing needs of each neighborhood within Philadelphia. Lovett Memorial Library falls within the “Northwest Cluster” which includes the Roxborough Branch, Andorra, Falls of the Schuylkill, Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Branch and the Chestnut Hill Branch.

Left unanswered, however, were some questions regarding the external changes that will come along with the 21st Century Libraries Initiative.

David Salamon, a Mt. Airy resident and architect has been attending the library’s meetings and has been unsatisfied with the FLP’s response.

“I don’t feel they’re doing their due diligence in keeping the community informed or listening to our concerns and considerations.” he said.

Construction, which is slated to begin in March, may take up to two years to complete.

David Moore, president of the Friends of Lovett Memorial felt Monday’s meeting went well.

“The restructuring of Free Library organization will have point-of-service ramifications across the system, so the more the word gets out the better,” he said.

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