A fresh chapter for the Roxborough Library

Community members began a beautification project for the Roxborough branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia a few months ago—and it’s actually getting more bodies through the door.

Jose Casalina, vice president of the Friends of Roxborough Library, said the group began with a few touch-ups last fall, by building a walkway and planting some flowers here and there. But after they posted a sign boasting the library’s plans to go even further, pedestrians that might not have given the library a second glance are strolling in.

“Improvements on the exterior are to make the library a more inviting place to be and to increase their circulation,” he said. “Circulation has increased 20-to-30 percent since we’ve been working on the outside [of the building].”

One of the major planned improvements will be a new sign to replace the current one—which has cracked glass, burgundy letters chipping off and pieces of wood missing.

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Raising the funds 

Casalina said $9,000 has already been raised, and a sign will cost $6,000. Casalina said the Friends are calling for designs from the community, which will be voted on in February. By the end of the month, plans to erect the sign will be in full swing.

The remaining money will be spent on a pergola, power washing the building and landscaping.

Casalina expects the improvments will drive even more people to walk through the door.

Roxborough’s branch manager Bruce Siebers said the library typically averages 150 visitors a day—and anywhere from 50 to 100 of those visitors have been coming in only since the library’s beautification project began.

“A lot of them come in they say they haven’t been here for a long time and [that] they’re impressed with the plants,” Siebers said. “And then the second [thing they say] is ‘how can I help?'”

That kind of mentality isn’t uncommon for supporters of the library.

Comparatively, the Roxborough library has more books than the average branch. Siebers said that’s due to a strong private fund for materials.

“The community donates new books and through private donations given to us, we were able to enhance the collection,” he said. “Other branches don’t have private funds like we have.”

A facility in high demand 

Vince Hillanbrand, who usually goes to Andorra Free Library because it’s two blocks from his house, said he prefers the selection of books that Roxborough’s library has.

“I read a lot of historical fiction,” he said. “And [compared with here], they have slim pickings at the other libraries.”

Hillanbrand also said he agrees that making the library less of an eye sore will pull in more patrons.

“It’s looked like this since the 80s,” he said.

Sandy Horrocks, vice president of external affairs for the Free Library of Philadelphia, said that citywide budgets to purchase new materials were cut by about 40 percent over the last three years.

Casalina said the group is not only revamping the library—inside and out—to make it more appealing for patrons, but to keep the library from cutting its hours or closing for good.

He said the library is needed not only for play dates for parents that are either stay-at-home parents or have flexible work hours like he does, but for students and community members to utilize its resources.

“Roxborough High School, their computer lab and their library both close [early],” he said. “I don’t know if people just assume that all these high school kids have computers at home [but] they have to be in the computer lab.”

Keeping the library safe from cuts

Roxborough resident William Brown said he goes to the library a few times a week, and he doesn’t think the library holds enough hours for community members.

“They’re not well-funded and they’re only open five days a week,” he said. “It’s a shame the libraries are getting run-down like this.”

The goal for the Friends is to ensure the library is safe from further slashes, Casalina says, and to drive circulation up. 

“They’re not going to cut Roxborough library’s hours if the circulation is going up,” he said.

But Horrocks stresses that fears of library branches being closed down altogether, as well as cutting additional hours or funding, are illegitimate and that there are no plans to do so.

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