Tacony Library celebrates grand reopening

The neighborhood fixture since 1906 reopened last weekend as a modern facility oriented toward community activities.

New and improved: Tacony Library, 6742 Torresdale Ave., celebrated its grand reopening on Saturday. It is one of four free libraries in the city of Philadelphia that was a part of the “Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative.” The celebration included live music, face painting and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. JOHN COLE / TIMES PHOTOS

On Saturday, Tacony Library celebrated its grand reopening and annual Winterfest, continuing as a staple in the neighborhood since its opening in 1906.

The Tacony Library, 6742 Torresdale Ave., is one of four free libraries in the city of Philadelphia that was a part of the “Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative.”

The Free Library of Philadelphia selected only four libraries based on a variety of reasons, but Siobhan Reardon, Free Library of Philadelphia president and director, explained why Tacony was chosen.

“It was an easy decision because of its relationship to the Community Development Corporation.”

These “21st Century Libraries” offer much more than libraries of years past.

“The idea here is that we convert our old libraries into a modern facility that is much more oriented toward community activities and engagement and less about books and the building,” Reardon said. “We’re really insisting that our libraries are about the experience when you come in and that the books in the buildings are the tools to that experience.”

This is certainly evident as the new and improved library is now entirely ADA accessible, with state-of-the-art specific Pre-K and Teen Zones, study rooms, a “computer bar” where the old building joins with the new addition, and the lower level occupation by the Tacony CDC.

Jim Keller, architect, JR Keller LLC, spoke about the unique tests that this historic library had when rehabbing it.

“What was presented as a challenge was the true accessibility.”

As a result, the new library has an entrance on Knorr Street that leads to an elevator that will make it much more accessible.

Suzin Weber, whom Reardon dubbed as the “mayor of this area,” is the Tacony Library branch manager. Weber reemphasized the community’s engagement as a vital reason this space will be well used.

“The most important thing to me was community input,” Weber said. “It was to make sure that everybody in the neighborhood had an opportunity to find out what was going on and learn about the process and speak to their concern.”

As a result of the successful back and forth with members of the community, Weber said, “Tacony was the only one that got to keep the library presence in the neighborhood,” while the 21st Century renovations were taking place. Library activities were temporarily moved to the Tacony Library and Arts Building, 6918 Torresdale Ave.

Although the library has just reopened, Weber explained the excitement that an influx of local schools are set to frequent the new space.

The “Building Inspiration” initiative was made possible in large part by the William Penn Foundation’s $25 million grant, which is the largest private gift ever received by the Free Library.

State Sen. John Sabatina Jr. (D-5th dist.) stated why it was an important investment.

“This is much more than a library, it’s a building block of a community. Tacony is such a special neighborhood. This investment is well worth it,” he said. “It’s not the last. It’s the first of many investments to put into Tacony.”

State Rep. Mike Driscoll (D-173rd dist.) believes this investment marks a turning point in the Tacony neighborhood.

“It’s a historic corner in Tacony,” Driscoll said. “It’s a beacon for the neighborhood to say Tacony is a rising sun, not a setting sun. This neighborhood is going to get stronger from investments like this.”

City Councilman Bobby Henon (D-6th dist.) echoed these sentiments and thanked those in the community for their involvement.

“We have the best (library) here in Tacony,” Henon claimed. “Thank you all for sticking to Tacony and making it great.”

The day also coincided with the annual Winterfest celebration that included a Chinese Lion Dance presented by the Philadelphia Sun, tap, Indian and African dance performances, face-painting, balloon art and a visit from Santa.

“Literacy means more than just your ability to open a book and read it,” Weber stated with excitement, as she believes this new library will once again be a community hub for the people of Tacony. ••

John Cole can be reached at JCole@bsmphilly.com