Patrons checking out new passport service at Northeast Philly library

 (From left) Regional Librarian Peter Lehu; Customer Service Manager Bridget Bielicki;State Representative Kevin J. Boyle; and Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia pose for a photo during the ribbon cutting ceremony of a new passport center in Northeast Philadelphia. (Photo by Jules Vuotto)

(From left) Regional Librarian Peter Lehu; Customer Service Manager Bridget Bielicki;State Representative Kevin J. Boyle; and Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia pose for a photo during the ribbon cutting ceremony of a new passport center in Northeast Philadelphia. (Photo by Jules Vuotto)

From Texas to Virginia to Bucks County and, now, Northeast Philadelphia, public libraries are doing more than they used to — including handling official documents for the U.S. State Department.

Northeast Regional Library on Cottman Avenue is now a passport acceptance facility, with a staff of two agents charged with processing new passport applications — a service formerly provided at a nearby post office.

0publiclibrarypassportx600A new sign hangs outside of the Northeast Regional Library, 2228 Cottman Avenue (Provided)

“You need to submit original documents, you need to take an oath in front of a certified agent,” explained regional librarian Peter Lehu, about why a brick-and-mortar location is needed.

The office is tucked into a back corner of the library’s first floor, past shelves for DVDs in Hindi and other foreign languages, in an area called “New American” corner, which explains this and other offerings for immigrants, including ESL classes. The passport office will offer evening hours, and part of the service fee will go back into the library system.

After three years of planning, the partnership’s goal is to spread services to more people — and offer libraries “a way to get people into” the building, said Lehu.

“We’re hoping people who come in could pick up materials, learn about programs, and get used to the space and using it,” he said.

Most passport acceptance offices in Philadelphia are tied to post offices — where lines, especially during the holiday rush — are long, and hours tend to be shorter. Offering the service in libraries is already common in some other states, and local officials say they hope this pilot is only the first to come in Philadelphia.

“The State Department saw the need for additional passport services in Northeast Philadelphia,” according to a news release from the Free Library of Philadelphia, as “the community surrounding the Northeast Regional Library has one of the highest percentages of foreign-born residents in the city of Philadelphia.”

After the official opening Thursday morning, two library patrons walked over to a display by the office door and picked up a couple of handouts, before heading into the library stacks.

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