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Saturday closures worry Free Library lovers

Working for the weekend

Many libraries in Northeast Philadelphia are no longer open on Saturdays. Activists are asking Mayor Kenney and City Council to chip in more money.

A periodical discussion: Fred Ginyard, a community organizer for the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, speaks to residents and library staff during a meeting at the Lawncrest Library on Oct. 2. Only 23 of the library’s 53 locations citywide are open on Saturdays. JACK TOMCZUK / TIMES PHOTO

More than half of Northeast Philadelphia’s 11 libraries are now closed on Saturdays due to staff shortages.

During a community meeting last week at the Lawncrest Library, advocates urged residents to call on Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council to increase the municipal contribution to the library system by $15 million.

“We believe that libraries should be open six days a week,” said Fred Ginyard, a community organizer with the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation.

Only 23 of the library’s 53 locations citywide are open on Saturdays. Many neighborhood branches were closed on Saturdays in the summer, but it was expected that they would reopen in the fall.

In the Northeast, Fox Chase, Katharine Drexel, Northeast Regional, Tacony and Torresdale libraries will be operating on Saturdays, according to the Free Library.

Lawncrest Library is currently closed on Saturdays, but a library spokesperson said the branch is expected to open later in the year.

Bushrod, Bustleton, Frankford, Holmesburg and Welsh Road libraries are all closed on Saturdays.

“Numerous issues contribute to staff shortages and resultant closures, including staff attrition and the amount of time it takes to fill an open position,” said Joel Benford, the library’s deputy director of customer engagement, in a statement.

“Simply put, the Library does not have enough staff to get every location open six days a week,” he added.

Unexpected closures have also been an issue. Neighborhood branches have had to reduce regular hours 372 times so far in 2018, according to an information sheet distributed at the Lawncrest meeting.

Ginyard said the $15 million in additional funding, which would bring the city’s total contribution to $56.3 million, would allow all libraries to open on Saturdays, prevent unexpected closings and make sure all youth programs are fully funded.

Deciding whether to increase the library’s funding and by how much could be an important piece of the city’s next budget cycle.

In a statement, Kenney’s office said his administration has made progress in restoring funding the Free Library lost during the 2008 recession. The mayor’s office also touted Rebuild, a city initiative to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in restoring parks, rec centers and libraries.

Library organizers have argued that Rebuild, which improves the physical infrastructure of library buildings, is only effective if libraries are fully staffed.

Officials from Kenney’s office are also working with the Free Library to determine why branches close, how the library utilizes its staff and other personnel issues.

“Better understanding these issues will help inform conversations around library funding during the upcoming budget cycle,” the mayor’s office said in a statement.

Sixth District Councilman Bobby Henon told the Times that libraries are a critical community resource. He also expressed support for increasing the Free Library’s funding and the continuing efforts of the Rebuild program.

“We need to increase funding to our libraries,” Henon said in a statement. “Increased funding means increased staff and extended hours, including weekends.”

Tenth District Councilman Brian O’Neill could not be reached for comment.

A sluggish hiring process may also be hampering the Free Library’s efforts to increase staffing.

“The rate at which we can hire is sometimes not as quick as we would like because of the Civil Service and Office of Human Resources capacity,” said Andrea Zimmerman, Northeast Neighborhood Libraries cluster leader, during the Lawncrest meeting.

Zimmerman said every city department took a cut around the time of the recession, so the hiring process has slowed down.

At the meeting in Lawncrest, Ginyard and other Free Library representatives said residents can support the library by getting involved in their local branch’s Friends group. They also encouraged the formation of friends groups at locations that do not have active support groups.

Ginyard said the Friends groups can also serve as advocacy arms of the library, especially once City Council begins the budget process.

For more information on Free Library location and hours, visit www.freelibrary.org ••

Jack Tomczuk can be reached at jtomczuk@newspapermediagroup.com

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