Shelves of books, movies and magazines were pushed to one corner of the Falls of Schuylkill Library on Saturday night so partygoers could socialize beneath the vaulted ceiling of the nearly 100 year-old library.
Librarians and volunteers served wine behind the circulation desk and tables were covered with baked goods for the 5th annual “Winter Interlude” celebration.
Ellie Schleicher, who helped plan the event, explained that this was more than just a fundraiser, it was “a community get-together.”
“They support us and we want to do something for them,” Schleicher said.
Since the beginning of the global recession in 2008, the Free Library of Philadelphia has been struggling to stay afloat. In 2009, Mayor Nutter came close to shutting down several libraries throughout the city, which was eventually avoided by nearly halving the budget for materials such as books, magazines, and computer software.
Constance Deasy worked for 40 years as a Philadelphia librarian and says one of the library’s biggest challenges is finding staff.
“I’ve seen crises, but this is the worst it’s ever been,” Deasy said. “Everyone has three jobs.”
According to regulations, the library must close if four librarians and one guard are not present.
Stephanie Rowe took over as the library’s head librarian four months ago. She believes that the Free Library is a necessary supplement to the public schools, not all of which have libraries of their own.
Rowe explains that “literacy is not just about reading.” The library offers homework help and was recently given a gift from the East Falls Community Council to present after-school writing, drawing, and storytelling workshops.
East Falls resident Dominique Gibson, 22, studies art and pyschology at Delaware County Community College. He comes to the Falls of Schuylkill Library to write his essays, explaining that it is far more “peaceful, calm, and relaxing” at the Falls of Schuylkill Library than at the “very, very loud” library on Delco’s campus. He prefers the librarians here, who pleasantly enforce a study atmosphere.
In 2010, The Fels School of Government at UPenn published a study attempting to put a number on the monetary impact of the city’s libraries.
“The Economic Value of the Free Library in Philadelphia” found that the library produced more than $30 million combined last year in literacy and job skills, as well as real estate value. In response to the survey, one third of the people who came to the library to use the computer, said they needed it to search for a job.
According to UPenn, 95-percent of Philadelphians live within 1.13 miles of their local branch. On average, homes within a quarter mile of a library are worth $9,360 more than homes further away than a quarter mile.
Connie Gillespie has worked as a realtor in the area for 20 years, and points out that this library is geographically in the center of East Falls. This allows easy access to all members of the diverse community, including former Governor Ed Rendell, who has been known to stop in at his local branch. Gillespie includes library pamphlets in the gift basket she gives to new homeowners. “As a realtor, I can say that one of the real assets and the real treasures of this neighborhood is this library.”
As a jazz duo played, guests bid on prizes for the silent auction. More than four dozen gifts were donated by local individuals and businesses, ranging from a knitting and croqueting lesson to an oil change from a local automotive business.
Linda Koons, President of the Friends of the Falls of Schuylkill Library, reminded the community that now is a particularly important time to support the library.
“Some people think of the library as a babysitter, because of after-school programs, but, in fact, during a time of recession, we have more people using the library,” Koons said. “They come in to use the computers to find jobs, borrow books, and read the newspapers.”
In 2013, the Falls of Schuylkill Library will celebrate its 100th anniversary as a community resource for East Falls residents. The more than $4,000 raised from Saturday’s event will go towards new shelves, window shades and the updating of the library’s magazine and newspaper subscriptions.