Sara Palmer, the supervisor at the Kensington Library and a union member of AFSCME DC 47, works full-time at the understaffed branch. Even so, she is considering taking on overtime hours to keep the library open on Saturdays.
Palmer’s branch has suffered significant staffing shortages in the last year and operates without any teen library assistants or after-school workers, leaving the after-school programming responsibilities incomplete most of the time. Palmer is also the only Spanish-speaking librarian serving the 19133 ZIP code, which is 55% Hispanic or Latine, at Kensington Library.
During the City’s budget process last June, advocates pushed for more funding to keep libraries open during regular hours and the evenings and weekends. In February, the Free Library of Philadelphia announced the return of Saturday hours at 10 branches across the city while continuing to focus on staffing efforts. The Kensington Library, one of the participating branches, hadn’t been open on Saturdays since before the pandemic.
For the three libraries serving the area — Kensington, Lillian Marrero, and McPherson Square — Palmer’s experience is a familiar story. Staffing shortages have required many librarians to take on roles that would usually be divided amongst a team, and have led to sudden closures when staff can’t work on short notice, said Kayla Hoskinson, the acting library supervisor at Lillian Marrero Library and a union member of AFSCME DC 47.
Fortunately, the Free Library is in the process of hiring new employees across the network, but in the meantime, the toll is weighing heavily on staff, Hoskinson said.
“There’s this feeling of hope and getting to a better place and more healthy place as an institution because of the hiring,” Hoskinson said. “But we literally have to hire hundreds of people right now. And that is just to get us to a stable five-day service.”
At the same time, library staff continue supporting their communities in healthy and sustainable ways.
Libraries are vital social gathering spaces because they allow for connection outside the home or workplace in a free and public area, said Lessa Pelayo-Lozada, the president of the American Library Association.
“There are very few other spaces that don’t cost anything to participate and engage and can also provide that institutional base for folks to be able to enter and to be able to engage and build community,” Pelayo-Lozada added.
Across the country, librarians are navigating issues affecting their neighborhoods, like book challenges and bans, food insecurity, funding cuts, crime, and substance use, said Lauren Comedo, executive director at Urban Librarians Unite, a nonprofit organization supporting libraries through resources and advocacy.
“Any issue that’s happening outside the doors of the library is also happening inside the library,” Comedo added.
In Philadelphia, libraries are great spaces for developing solutions to social problems that people care about, according to Joel Nichols, the cluster leader of the Free Library’s North Philadelphia Neighborhood Libraries. Attending programs, meeting with fellow community members, checking out books, and borrowing library materials are ways to support the library and encourage solutions.
“The library seems like the birthplace for me,” Nichols said. “It’s a place where people come together and start putting those solutions together and making demands of folks who could change them.”
Read below to find out more about how you can support your local library.
The easiest way to support your library is by getting a Free Library card, attending virtual and in-person programs, classes, events, and meetings, or checking out resources and books. These actions help library staff understand community needs and show funders that the library has patronage relying on its services. Find your local library here and a list of upcoming events here.
The Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia is a nonprofit organization supporting Philadelphia’s free library network. Members advocate for expanded library budgets, attend local information meetings, sign petitions and work with other community members to help their local branch. More information can be found on their Facebook and Twitter or by asking your librarian how to get involved.
Lillian Marrero and McPherson also have their own Friends group for patrons to join and contribute more directly.
Volunteer positions are available at each library branch, contributing to cleaning and cosmetic repairs, assisting with programs, providing homework help, assisting with daily library tasks, or fulfilling other needs the library may have. Click here for volunteer opportunities and applications for both teens and adults.
Library job openings can be found on the Free Library website, the City of Philadelphia job board, or by contacting your local library.
Love Your Park hosts volunteer events throughout the year, several of which aid the areas surrounding Kensington libraries by cleaning and greening the grounds. Find out about upcoming park events here. McPherson Square Library also hosts periodic cleaning events with volunteer opportunities. Find out more by contacting the library at 215-685-9995.
Donations to the library can be made in a variety of ways. Financial donations can be given online by filling out a donation form or mailing a check to:
The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation
PO Box 7512
Philadelphia, PA 19101-7512
Make sure your donation arrives at your local branch by entering the library’s name under “Write-in Designation” or specifying it on your check.
For in-kind donations, ask your librarian if they have a “wish list” of items they would like donated. However, books should not be donated to the library. Instead, they can be taken to the Friends of the Free Library’s used bookstore, the Book Corner, at 311 N. 20th St., Philadelphia, PA 19103.
Frequently needed or accepted items include:
- Board games
- Cleaning supplies
- Craft supplies
- Keurig coffee pods
- Snacks and water for after-school programs
- Sports equipment
Hygiene products like shower supplies, menstrual supplies, deodorant, wipes, and contraception can be donated to help stock the “Comfort Closets.” Some library locations may accept furniture donations as long as they’ve been inspected for bed bugs. Technology like printers, computers, and phones may also be accepted.
Speak up for your local library to ensure that funders and city officials know that your branch is a valued resource. Advocacy helps ensure libraries will be adequately funded in the annual budget and reinforces what additional support libraries need from the city and donors. Find your local representative here, or join the Friends of the Free Library campaigns for advocacy events like letter writing, calling your representatives, and library rallies.
Promote library events by distributing flyers and library card applications at your workplace, school, church, or community events. Contact your librarian for these materials. If you would like to distribute a large number of flyers, call in advance to let your librarian know how many you will need.
Share this resource guide with friends, family, and colleagues to increase awareness and support for your local library. Other inquiries about supporting your library can be directed to the contacts below.
Address: 104 West Dauphin Street
Philadelphia, PA 19133-3701
Librarian: Sara Palmer
Lillian Marrero Library
Address: 601 West Lehigh Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19133-2228
Librarian: Kayla Hoskinson
McPherson Square Library
Address: 601 East Indiana Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19134-3042
Librarian: Tuesday Chalmers
Editors: Jillian Bauer-Reese, Siani Colón, Zari Tarazona Designer: Zari Tarazona