Residents of Mt. Airy learned that the Lovett Memorial Library had been selected as a prototype for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s 21st Century Libraries Initiative — a citywide campaign to modernize Philadelphia’s neighborhood libraries — in June 2013.
On Saturday morning, just over eight months after the design phase began, community members gathered once again — this time to witness the proposed plan for the very first time.
‘A place you would want to go’
Approximately 30 people gathered in Lovett’s upstairs meeting space for a presentation by Joe Benford, FLP’s chief of the extensions division and architect James R. Keller, whose team is spearheading the FLP’s transformation initiative.
Also in attendance was the Free Library of Philadelphia’s president and director, Siobhan Reardon and Ignatius Wang, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia and a Mt. Airy resident.
“We’d like to make [our neighborhood branches] more welcoming, much more comfortable, a place you would want to go to, with a lot more technology and total accessibility,” said Benford.
Benford then noted that the library is still actively seeking private funding in order to make the transformation a reality.
A proposed plan
The meeting included a detailed explanation of the proposed design plan by Keller, which he emphasized is a work in progress.
For the Lovett Memorial Library, Keller’s team is proposing an ambitious addition that will increase the library by approximately one-third its current size. The plan also includes a rooftop terrace for programs, events and general guest access and focuses on opening up the infrastructure by shelving books along the building’s perimeter and on low standing units within.
A designated teen alcove, a quiet room, a study and a “cafe” area have been included to organize functionality and better control activity and noise. The mezzanine, which currently serves as the library’s children’s section will be transformed into a technology center and a makers’ space and will include increased computer access and space for creative working.
The children’s section will be extended and moved into the building’s addition that promises a full view of the library’s property. Lovett will also become handicapped accessible equipped with an elevator and automatic doors, as well as two new “family style” restrooms.
Keller was met with many questions and concerns from the meeting’s attendees. “Where are all the books going to go?” one resident asked. “It looks like we are losing almost our entire collection.”
Both Keller and Benford assured the community that the library’s collection, while shrinking slightly, will remain “robust.”
“One of the things that is interesting, is that there is an enormous efficiency in this type of layout.” Keller said. “Yes, it’s a different way of organizing the collection than traditionally seen, but it accommodates the numbers we were given and opens up the space making it more welcoming and community centered.”
As questions and concerns continued to be voiced, Board of Trustrees member Ignatious Wang suggested a second meeting be held in the near future to focus on the libarary’s operations.
The library hopes to break ground in March 2015 with a 14 to 16 month construction phase. The library, which dates back to 1887 was last renovated in 1999.