Lovett Library reopens with gala celebration

After being closed for more than a year and a half for an extensive expansion and modernization project, the Lovett Memorial Library in Mt. Airy reopened on Saturday. The celebratory reception featured live music and appearances from several elected officials, including Mayor Jim Kenney.

Since 2015, Lovett has been closed to the public during the roughly $8 million renovations to the 130-year-old library. Changes include making the building accessible to people with disabilities, adding a children’s library, installing a computer bar, and building a covered porch for outdoor activities.

“In the summer and spring, that’s just going to be gorgeous,” said Siobhan Reardon, president of the Philadelphia Free Library.

Lovett was one of four libraries selected as part of the Philadelphia Free Library’s Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative funded by the William Penn Foundation.  The city also provided support, as did the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation.

On Saturday, children ran through the renovated library’s new café-inspired short bookshelves – all a perfect height for placing books at eye-level for younger readers.  The new porch proved a welcome addition to those who ventured into the snowy outdoors.

Inside, Mayor Jim Kenney took time to thank the William Penn Foundation for the $25 million grant that made the Building Inspiration initiative possible.

“You are our salvation,” said Mayor Kenney. “We could not do everything we have done without the William Penn Foundation. I totally believe that all of the kids in our cities deserve as good or better than what the kids in the suburbs get.”

Councilwoman Cindy Bass spoke as well. “It took us a moment to get here, but this is spectacular,” she said. “I’m a library kid through and through. I wouldn’t be where I am at today if it wasn’t for access to books.”

According to Patrick Morgan, program director for the Knight Foundation, one of the main goals of the Lovett Library modernization project was to help tie the traditional facility into the surrounding outdoor space and to “reimagine the function of the library.”

“Libraries are important now more than ever,” he said. “The power of the library is in the building and we wanted to reimagine what you can do.”

 The architect who worked on the library, James R. Keller, said that one of the most important aspects of the redesign was the linking of the library to the surronding park with a patio that can be used as a stage to enable Lovett Library to serve as a setting for outdoor readings and performances.

As he looked around the open space, Keller pointed out the new “living room” oval reading area in the main library, saying that he’d worked closely with the community to ensure that ideas and amenities desired by locals were incorporated into the design.

Originally built in 1887 – with an addition added in 1961 – Lovett Library was long due for a renovation, Keller said. They designed the space after studying modern libraries around the world in order to bring the new Lovett Library to life.

The “living room” space is designed with modular furniture to allow for maximum flexibility. And, Keller said, along with making the library more  to the general public, it is designed with an eye toward making the space a place that kids and teenagers will want to spend time in.

“One of the goals was to make sure the library would still be cool and relevant with the teenagers,” he said.

Overall, David Moore, president of the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library said he is stunned by the new space.  

“This has just been amazing,” he said. “Not having a library was difficult, so, we are really excited that, after a year and a half, we have the Mount Airy library back.” 

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