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Transforming Lives at Any Given Moment

Free Library of Philadelphia

Problem Statement

While mired in budget crises, the Free Library of Philadelphia decided to consider our future role in the City of Philadelphia and the future direction of this recession hit public library. Executive Staff met in a short retreat to look at our citizens and our services and determine a short term strategic direction.

Funding of the library was cut 20% and 110 staff positions were eliminated while locations and hours were mandated to remain at full levels. Clearly, business as usual was not going to be a successful strategy, so Siobhan Reardon, President and Director, decided to change the obstacles into opportunities.


Led by Siobhan Reardon, the Library determined to be defined as a value set, not just a place for buildings and books. Our brand promise to the citizens of Philadelphia is that we are “Transforming Lives at Any Given Moment” and our strategic goal was that “the Free Library of Philadelphia will lead the City of Philadelphia to economic recovery and ongoing prosperity and be recognized for its role.”

The brand promise led to banners, new library cards, signs declaring the “Free Library of Opportunity,” the “Free Library of Conversation,” the “Free Library of Promise”… The strategic goal led to targeting 6 audiences which would most impact economic recovery and directing services, programs, materials to transforming these groups.

The 6 audiences are Jobseekers, Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs, Preschool Children and their Caregivers, New Americans, the Digitally Savvy, and our own Staff. Task forces met over the summer (when plans were simultaneously being made to shut down the whole library system) and they gathered information about these groups in Philadelphia, talked to focus groups, stakeholders, and staff, and developed short term and long term initiatives and projects. Presentations were made by task force chairs at Board of Trustee and Board of Directors meetings so they could choose a group to work with and champion. At an all staff meeting, the presentation by the task forces led to discussion and plans. The task forces created very active on-line discussion groups to further engage and garner continuing support from the staff. Implementation is in process now


Implementation is underway and grants are in process to pilot the short term projects. Outcomes will not be clear until FY 11, but training in serving these audiences has been launched. The library’s IMLS sponsored Community Based Librarianship Symposium in May 2010 will focus on serving these populations and there will be workshops with local audience serving organizations and with other public libraries who are well known and experienced in serving these groups.

Projects in process include:

  • Jobseekers – provide resource collections for branches that are modeled on the Parkway Central Workplace ; produce brochures on interview tips for jobseekers to take away
  • Small businesses and entrepreneurs – expand the services and programs of Parkway Central Library’s Business, Science, and Industry Department into branches and neighborhoods with high numbers of small businesses
  • Preschool Children and their Caregivers – expand outreach to neighborhoods and preschool centers through Preschoolmobiles ; initiate a “Read, Baby, Read” campaign with other city departments to reach new parents in hospitals, clinics, and at home visits
  • New Americans – translate library card applications and cards into 10 languages for use in neighborhoods and with other organizations, create ESL conversation groups in branches, purchase language learning and ESL databases, computer programs, print materials
  • Digitally Savvy – engage group in technology projects for the library, develop speaker series targeted to digitally savvy to bring group together
  • Staff – Administration from middle management to the director working days in front line libraries, all staff meeting, use more email and online communication channels

Outcomes and timelines are being developed for all projects as they are designed. The Library is changing the way it is characterized by media, politicians, funders, and citizens from victim to vibrant participant. Most importantly, the Library in budget testimony and in city meetings is actively contributing to addressing the economic issues of the city and the future prosperity of the citizens of Philadelphia.