Philadelphia Still on Track for Branch Closings

Philadelphia Still on Track for Branch Closings

Despite an outpouring of public concern and a cautionary note from city council, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter seems unwavering in his decision to permanently close 11 out of 54 branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia and eliminate Sunday hours at the three regional branches. In a December 8 town hall meeting, Nutter warned that the city’s financial health had deteriorated further and that the budget’s five-year deficit will be larger than the $1-billion estimate he gave November 1, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported December 9.

Free Library Associate Director Joseph McPeak told American Libraries that pink slips were handed out December 5 to 47 staff members, “9 or 10 professionals and the rest support staff.” That number is down from the 70 estimated last month, due to a higher number of positions lost to attrition. “Our total reduction in workforce was 111 positions,” McPeak said. A few of the laid-off library assistants are being trained for work in a new 311 nonemergency call center slated to open in late December.

A crowd of some 200 library advocates—among them some city council members and state officials—gathered outside the city’s Central Library December 6 and pledged to reverse Nutter’s decision. Philadelphia Student Union Executive Director Nijimie Dzurinko told the crowd that “the mayor campaigned on reducing the dropout rate and the crime rate, and closing libraries . . . is not going to move towards those goals,” WHYY-FM radio reported December 6.

City council passed 12–5 a nonbinding resolution December 4 urging Nutter to delay a final decision on the branch closings and for the council to consider holding public hearings on the matter. Those voting against it said that it would only give library advocates false hope, according to the December 5 Inquirer.

Four of the 11 branches scheduled to close on January 1—Logan, Holmesburg, Haddington, and Kingsessing—are original Carnegie libraries, and the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia urged the mayor to issue a reprieve for them. Alliance Director John Andrew Gallery wrote Nutter, saying that these branches are “important community landmarks, and that status derives from their function as libraries as much as from their historical and architectural significance.”

In a message placed on the library’s website in November, Director Siobhan Reardon wrote, “A number of factors were considered in deciding which branches to close. The key one was ensuring access—no patron of a branch slated for closing would have to travel more than two miles to another one. Other considerations included facility size and ability to expand, usage statistics, and an attempt not to concentrate the closures in any one area of the city.”

McPeak told AL that the Free Library is committed to “serving those communities where branches are being closed. We’re looking at alternate facilities to replicate services, bookmobiles, and maintaining our outreach with the schools and community centers.”

Posted on December 10, 2008. Discuss.