Mt. Airy community prepares for two-year closure of Lovett library

 (Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks, file)

(Emily Brooks/for NewsWorks, file)

The mood was heavy as members of the Mt. Airy community gathered Monday evening for the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library’s meeting.

In January, the nearly 130-year-old library will be closing its doors for at least two years while the building undergoes major renovations as part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s multi million dollar 21st Century Libraries Initiative.

In June 2013, the Lovett community first learned their library had been selected along with four other neighborhood branches for the pilot phase of the FLP’s modernization initiative. The project, which is being funded by the William Penn Foundation, will involve renovating the Parkway Central Library, modernizing select neighborhood libraries and building community partnerships. 

At Lovett, design plans include a building extension to house the children’s library, an enlarged tech center, a quiet reading space and a more open floor plan for the main building. When the initial designs were revealed at a Feb. 2014 community meeting, the Lovett community showed mixed reception.

“Where are all the books going to go?” one resident asked. “It looks like we are losing almost our entire collection.”

Others praised the upgrade in technology and computer access as well as the extension of the widely used children’s library.

But on Monday, the main concern was where the community could turn during the renovations.  Lovett serves as a meeting center for several local groups and clubs and provides after school programming for children. 

With the project breaking ground in just a few months, the Free Library of Philadelphia has yet to offer the Lovett community a plan for temporary or alternative services while the building is under construction.

“So far, their solution seems to be, ‘Go to one of the other branches,'” explained David Moore, President of the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library. “But that is not always a viable option for everyone.”

Rodi Steinig is a Mt. Airy resident with young children who use the library regularly. She and her daughter attended Monday’s meeting.

“I just want to stress how important this is to my family,” Steinig said. “We live two blocks away and our children are heavy library users.” 

She added for families like hers, it’s vital that there be something easily accessible in downtown Mt. Airy at least a few days a week. 

For Mara Natkins and others at Monday’s meeting, finding a temporary location for the library is also about keeping the library’s sense of community alive. In other words: out of sight; out of mind.

“We need to keep up the momentum that’s already been created by the Lovett Memorial Library,” Natkins said. “We need to continue to cultivate the next generation of library users.”

Veronica Britto, branch manager of the Lovett Memorial Library, was also in attendance at Monday’s meeting. Britto assured residents that the Free Library of Philadelphia is taking into consideration the community’s needs and working on a solution.

“The plans aren’t specific yet because they are closing all the renovated libraries at the same time,” Britto said, “so all of these neighborhood branches are being faced with the same concerns…Looking for a solution is definitely something that is being discussed,” she said. “But the solution itself has yet to be revealed.”

For Friends of Lovett Memorial Library this is not enough.

“I am utterly frustrated. We’ve been left in the dark for much of this process,” said Moore. “We’ve asked the questions. We want the answers.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.