Skip Navigation
Back to Navigation

Flying High: Free Library of Philadelphia Touches Down in the International Airport

← Back

Flying High: Free Library of Philadelphia Touches Down in the International Airport

Free Library of Philadelphia, Pa.

Advocacy & Awareness | Top Innovator

Innovation Synopsis

The Free Library of Philadelphia has landed in the airport. Engaging hundreds of businesses, thousands of workers and millions of passengers, the airport is a fly-zone to possibility. Our virtual and physical presence ensures we are the passport to literacy, learning and inspiration on the ground and into the sky.


Libraries everywhere are re-imagining themselves by creating new services while embracing familiar identities. The airport project establishes free wi-fi access as a core library service delivered outside of traditional walls. With a highly diverse audience of businesses, travelers, employees and flight staff, we can assist with the equitable provision of wi-fi internet whether you’re a Philadelphian or a Parisian. Our connection automatically takes users to a landing page replete with curated content. Author podcasts, Project Gutenberg e-books, digital collections and traveler’s information never suffer delays. If your flight does, being grounded has its privileges; engage with us via your mobile device or relax in our library lounge. These options increase the visibility and profile of the Free Library, yet a library card is not required for entry. If you are one of the 141,000 airport workers, we are your 2.5 million square foot neighborhood library. And if you’re just flying through, we can enrich the time that you spend with literacy, learning and lounging opportunities. A library’s story is its bounty. We are remaining relevant by extending our reach whilst staying loyal to 54 nutritive neighborhood locations. From Free Library Hot Spots embedded in community organizations to a virtual library at Suburban Station (a busy train depot) to Philadelphia International Airport, the library’s story is growing robust new chapters and ubiquitous, unique value.

Key Elements of Innovation

The eyes of the library world were upon Philadelphia for the 2012 Public Library Association conference. This inaugurated the first phase of the Free Library’s airport project. In addition to a volunteer presence, digital advertisements using both text and QR codes connected conference attendees to our digital resources. Crucially, the occasion also helped nurture the unique relationship between the library, a large airport administration and AT&T, the airport’s wireless contractor. Beyond PLA, the project proceeded on two tracks: technology and service. The library completed infrastructure work extending our wide area network (metro Ethernet 100M connection) to the airport in November 2012 allowing service provision in an insular airport environment. A significant run of fiber now connects the Free Library to the main communication hub of Philadelphia International Airport (PHL). Free Library wi-fi is available currently in Terminal E. This access will be extended throughout all public areas of the airport—contiguous with AT&T’s equipment project—by December 2013. On July 2, 2013, the airport’s Welcome America July Fourth Kick-Off event occurs. This will inaugurate a one-year-long exhibition on Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy created in partnership with the library. AT&T has agreed to equip this area first, thus permitting enriched interactive features to be enabled. The event will also serve as the official launch of the larger programmatic project at PHL. Our virtual presence will be anchored by a physical space promoting literacy and libraries. This Library Lounge will offer comfortable seating and ample outlets for electronic devices. We will use QR codes and Near Field Communication on “book wallpaper” to entice people to our podcasts and classics using their mobile devices.

Achieved Outcomes

We think big. The Free Library wants to be everywhere, offering value for everyone, leaving no Philadelphian behind. We want to be the recognized brand on the street and in the boardroom with a diversified cadre of stakeholders contributing to our enduring narrative. Since 2011 we have operated five Hot Spots with Library staff and services embedded in community organizations. We learned the deep value of maintaining strong partnerships with trusted neighborhood leaders as a way to engage a cohort of new library users. April 2012 saw the debut of our Techmobile, a 25’ Hot Spot on wheels, delivering library brand visibility, wi-fi and computer classes around Philadelphia. In Suburban Station, a high-traffic train station, we are premiering a Virtual Library. This will yield valuable lessons about interactions with our digital advertising, QR-coded bookshelf and staff in a transit environment unaccustomed to a library presence. Further growing our portfolio of engaged digital initiatives, we will soon have a wireless presence across an entire international airport facility that welcomes thirty million travelers each year. This is an expansive opportunity with a solid foundation to support success. Airport administration, AT&T and the library will together enable this to happen with benefits for all whom come to work or fly at PHL. The library continues to tend our fruitful older collaborations and work towards building new partnerships to position the library as a hub of possibilities for residents and for those just passing through. Whatever one’s final destination, the library is here.