Free Library of Philadelphia
|Items collected||Automobile Reference Collection
Chamber Music Collection
Children's Literature Research Collection
Drinker Choral Music Library
Early American Children's Books
Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music
Print and Picture Collection (largest in the U.S.A)
Rare Book Collections
Sheet Music Collection
|Access and use|
|Director||Siobhan A. Reardon|
The Free Library of Philadelphia is the public library system that serves Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is the 13th-largest public library system in the United States. Unique among public libraries in the United States, it is neither a city agency nor a nonprofit organization; instead, it is governed by both an independent city agency managed by its own board of directors and a separate nonprofit organization, The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation.
In fiscal year 2015, the Free Library hosted nearly six million patrons in person and ten million more online.
The Free Library of Philadelphia was chartered in 1891 as "a general library which shall be free to all", through efforts led by Dr. William Pepper, who secured initial funding through a $225,000 bequest from his wealthy uncle, George S. Pepper. However, several libraries claimed the bequest, and only after the courts decided the money was intended to found a new public library did the Free Library finally open in March 1894. Its first location was three cramped rooms in City Hall. On February 11, 1895, the library was moved to the old Concert Hall at 1217-1221 Chestnut Street. Library officials criticized their new home as "an entirely unsuitable building, where its work is done in unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded quarters, temporary make-shifts". In December 1, 1910, the Library was moved again, to the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Streets. Today, the Free Library of Philadelphia system is composed of 61 locations including Parkway Central Library, three regional libraries, 49 neighborhood libraries, five community Hot Spots, the Regional Research and Operations Center, and the Rosenbach Museum & Library, which became a subsidiary of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation in 2013, retains its own board, and is managed separately from the public library system.
Parkway Central Library
On June 2, 1927, the Parkway Central Library opened for service at its present location at 1901 Vine Street on Logan Square. The building had been in planning since 1911; various obstacles, including World War I, held up progress. The grand Beaux-Arts building was designed by Julian Abele, chief designer in the office of prominent Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, and first opened its doors in 1927. Its design, that of the adjacent Philadelphia Family Court building, and their placement on Logan Circle closely follow that of the Hôtel de Crillon and the Hôtel de la Marine on Paris's Place de la Concorde. In addition to being the main library, the building serves as the system's administrative building.
The mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia is "to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity."
The Free Library of Philadelphia hosts more than 25,000 events each year, including job-search workshops, small business programming, English as a Second Language conversation groups, and computer classes. The Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center, which opened in the spring of 2014 at the Parkway Central Library, offers culinary classes for children, teens, families, and adults to teach literacy skills through cooking as well as math, chemistry, nutrition, and health. The Library hosts a renowned Author Events Series, which brings more than 100 writers, politicians, scientists, researchers, and musicians to the Free Library annually. The Library also hosts the citywide One Book, One Philadelphia program, which encourages all Philadelphians to read and discuss the same book, fostering community and connection; the Summer Reading program, which engages some 50,000 Philadelphia school children each summer; and the Literacy Enrichment After-school Program (LEAP). In addition, the Free Library hosts months-long celebrations of literary milestones, from the birthdays of influential writers like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare to the publication anniversaries of groundbreaking titles like Pride and Prejudice and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
The Free Library also manages READ! by 4th, a citywide effort of public and private organizations aiming to majorly increase the number of students in Philadelphia entering the 4th grade at reading level by 2020. READ! by 4th’s comprehensive strategy includes improving early learning, providing parents with resources to teach their children reading skills, emphasizing summer reading and other strategies to prevent learning loss, decreasing absenteeism by addressing behavioral and health concerns, and enhancing reading instruction in schools.
The Free Library's digital offerings include nearly 120,000 ebooks; 1,000 public computers; 1,000-plus author event podcasts; 150 online databases; daily homework and computer literacy classes online; Hot Spot community computer training centers; and the roving Techmobile.
Hot Spots initiative
In March 2011, the library launched Free Library Hot Spots, placing new computer labs and computer trainers in existing community centers in low-income areas of the city. The initiative is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. Each Hot Spot provides computers, internet access, printers, and a small selection of Free Library materials. (These are in addition to the 650 public-access computers and free WiFi throughout the Free Library's 54 branches.)
According to a study conducted by Penn’s Fels Institute of Government, in 2010 nearly 25,000 people learned to read or taught someone else to read solely because of the resources of the Free Library. In addition, nearly 1,000 people found jobs based on the career resources of the Free Library, and some 8,600 entrepreneurs were able to start, grow or improve their small businesses because of programs and resources available free of charge at the Library.
Located at the Parkway Central Library, the Free Library’s Special Collections span genres and generations, from ancient cuneiform tablets to historic photographs of Philadelphia.
The Rare Book Department features one of the world’s most renowned Charles Dickens collections, with first editions, personal letters, and Dickens’ stuffed pet raven, Grip, as well as extensive collections of illuminated manuscripts, Americana, Beatrix Potter, early children’s books, Edgar Allan Poe, Pennsylvania German folk art, and more. The John Frederick Lewis Collection of European Manuscripts, held at the Rare Book Department, consists of over 200 illuminated manuscripts from the 11th to the 16th centuries (one of the top ten collections in North America), as well as over 2,300 cuttings and manuscripts leaves (possibly the largest such collection in the world). The collection includes over fifty Books of Hours and numerous bibles, liturgical texts, and psalters, including the Lewis Psalter (Lewis E M 185), a masterpiece of Parisian illumination from the reign of Saint Louis. Works of secular literature are also represented. Lewis' illuminated manuscripts are complemented by nine manuscripts from the Widener Collection and manuscripts from various other sources. There is also a strong collection of some 800 incunabula, of which 500 come from the P.A.B. Widerner bequest of 1899. The collection of eastern or oriental manuscripts, also from John Frederick Lewis, contains examples of Arabic, Persian, Indo-Persian, Turkish, Hindustani, Sanskrit, Nepalese, Pali, Siamese, Armenian, Coptic, Ethiopic, Hebrew, Samaritan and Syriac illumination and calligraphy. The 153 oriental manuscripts provide examples of a variety of physical formats, among them books, scrolls, accordion books, and palm-leaf books. In addition, there are some 1,200 separate miniatures. The collection of over 2,800 clay tablets, dating from 3,000 B.C. to 300 B.C., was the gift of Mr. and Mrs. John Frederick Lewis, Sr.
The Free Library’s music collections include the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, the largest lending library of orchestral performance sets in the world.
The Automobile Reference Collection is one of the most extensive public resources of its kind, and the Print and Picture Collection houses roughly half a million circulating pictures in the largest public picture lending library in the nation, in addition to thousands of fine art prints, drawings, and photographs. The Theatre Collection contains research materials on the history of American theatre, early film, and popular entertainment. The Free Library also has an extensive special collection devoted to maps. Many of the items in the special collections have been digitized and can be viewed online.
In addition to the Parkway Central Library in downtown Philadelphia, the system operates 54 neighborhood library locations throughout the city. Many of these locations were funded by Andrew Carnegie, who donated US$1.5 million to the library in 1903.
|#||Name||Address||Zip Code||Phone||Neighborhood(s) Served|
|||Andorra||705 East Cathedral Road||19128-2106||215-685-2552||Andorra and Upper Roxborough|
|||Blanche A. Nixon||5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway||19143-3036||215-685-1973||Cobbs Creek|
|||Bushrod||6304 Castor Avenue||19149-2731||215-685-1471||Oxford Circle, Castor Gardens, Upper Northwood, Summerdale, and the Lower Northeast|
|||Bustleton||10199 Bustleton Avenue||19116-3718||215-685-0472||Bustleton and Somerton|
|||Cecil B. Moore||2320 Cecil B. Moore Avenue||19121-2927||215-685-2766||North Central, Strawberry Mansion, Brewerytown, Sharswood, and the Johnson Homes|
|||Charles L. Durham||3320 Haverford Avenue||19104-2021||215-685-7436||Mantua and Powelton|
|||Charles Santore||932 South 7th Street||19147-2932||215-686-1766||Bella Vista, Queen Village, and Hawthorne|
|||Chestnut Hill||8711 Germantown Avenue||19118-2716||215- 685-9290||Chestnut Hill|
|||David Cohen Ogontz||6017 Ogontz Avenue||19141||215-685-3566||Ogontz and Belfield|
|||Eastwick||2851 Island Avenue||19153-2314||215-685-4170||Eastwick, Elmwood, Clearview, and Penrose Park|
|||Falls of Schuylkill||3501 Midvale Avenue||19129-1633||215-685-2093||East Falls|
|||Fishtown Community||1217 East Montgomery Avenue||19125-3445||215-685-9990||Fishtown and New Kensington|
|||Fox Chase||501 Rhawn Street||19111-2504||215-685-0547||Fox Chase/Burholme|
|||Frankford||4634 Frankford Avenue||19124-5804||215-685-1473||Frankford, Northwood, Bridesburg, and part of Juniata Park|
|||Fumo Family||2437 South Broad Street||19148-3508||215-685-1758||Melrose|
|||Greater Olney||5501 North 5th Street||19120-2805||215-685-2846||Olney|
|||Haddington||446 North 65th Street||19151-4003||215-685-1970||Haddington-Carroll Park and Overbrook-Morris Park|
|||Haverford||5543 Haverford Avenue||19139-1432||215-685-1964||Haddington-Carroll Park|
|||Holmesburg||7810 Frankford Avenue||19136-3013||215-685-8756||Holmesburg and Mayfair|
|||Independence||18 S. 7th Street||19106||215-685-1633||Society Hill, Old City, Queen Village, Washington Square West, and Chinatown|
|||Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library||68 West Chelten Avenue||19144-2795||215-685-2150||Germantown|
|||Katharine Drexel||11099 Knights Road||19154-3516||215-685-9383||Normandy, North and West Torresdale, Morrell Park, Millbrook, Parkwood, Crestmont Farms, Brookhaven, and Walton Park|
|||Kensington||104 West Dauphin Street||19133-3701||215-685-9996||Kensington, West Kensington, and Norris Square|
|||Kingsessing||1201 South 51st Street||19143-4353||215-685-2690||Kingsessing|
|||Lawncrest||6098 Rising Sun Avenue||19111-6009||215-685-0549||Lawndale, Crescentville, Lawncrest, and Cedar Grove|
|||Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped||919 Walnut Street||19107||215-683-3213||-|
|||Lillian Marrero||601 West Lehigh Avenue||19133-2228||215-685-9794||Central North, Fairhill, St. Edwards/Hartranft, and West Kensington|
|||Logan||1333 Wagner Avenue||19141-2916||215-685-9156||Logan|
|||Lovett||6945 Germantown Avenue||19119-2189||215-685-2095||East and West Mt. Airy|
|||Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library||125 South 52nd Street||19139-3408||215-685-7433||Cedar Park, Walnut Hill, West Market, Mill Creek, Dunlap, and West Park|
|||McPherson Square||601 East Indiana Avenue||19134-3042||215-685-9995||Kensington, McPherson Square, and K & A|
|||Nicetown-Tioga||3720 North Broad Street||19140-3608||215-685-9790||Nicetown and Tioga|
|||Northeast Regional Library||2228 Cottman Avenue||19149-1297||215-685-0522||Greater Northeast|
|||Oak Lane||6614 North 12th Street||19126-3299||215-685-2848||Oak Lane|
|||Overbrook Park||7422 Haverford Avenue||19151-2995||215-685-0182||Overbrook Park|
|||Parkway Central||1901 Vine Street||19103||215-686-5322||--|
|||Paschalville||6942 Woodland Avenue||19142-1823||215-685-2662||Paschalville and Elmwood|
|||Philadelphia City Institute||1905 Locust Street||19103-5730||215-685-6621||Rittenhouse Square and Fitler Square|
|||Queen Memorial Library||1201 South 23rd Street||19146-4316||215-685-1899||Landreth|
|||Ramonita de Rodriguez||600 West Girard Avenue||19123-1311||215-686-1768||Olde Kensington, Kensington South, Ludlow, Yorktown, East and West Poplar, Northern Liberties, and Girard/Poplar|
|||Richmond||2987 Almond Street||19134-4955||215-685-9992||Richmond and Port Richmond|
|||The Rosenbach||2008-2010 Delancey Place||19103||215-732-1600||--|
|||Roxborough||6245 Ridge Avenue||19128-2630||215-685-2550||Roxborough, Manayunk and Wissahickon|
|||South Philadelphia||1700 South Broad Street||19145-2392||215-685-1866||South Philadelphia|
|||Tacony||6742 Torresdale Avenue||19135-2416||215-685-8755||Tacony/Wissinoming|
|||Thomas F. Donatucci, Sr.||1935 Shunk Street||19145-4234||215-685-1755||Girard Estate, Packer Park, Passyunk Homes, St. Richards, and West Passyunk|
|||Torresdale||3079 Holme Avenue||19136-1101||215-685-0494||Academy Gardens, Ashton-Woodbridge, Pennypack, Pennypack Woods, Upper Holmesburg, and Winchester Park|
|||Wadsworth||1500 Wadsworth Avenue||19150-1699||215-685-9293||Wadsworth, Cedarbrook, Ivy Hill, and East Mt. Airy|
|||Walnut Street West||201 South 40th Street||19104||215-685-7671||University City and Spruce Hill|
|||Welsh Road||9233 Roosevelt Boulevard||19114-2205||215-685-0498||Aston Wooden Bridge and Bustleton|
|||West Oak Lane||2000 Washington Lane||19138-1344||215-685-2843||West Oak Lane and parts of Cedarbrook, Ivy Hill, and East Mt. Airy|
|||Whitman||200 Snyder Avenue||19148-2620||215-685-1754||Whitman and Pennsport|
|||Widener||2808 West Lehigh Avenue||19132-3296||215-685-9799||North Central, Strawberry Mansion, and Allegheny West|
|||Wynnefield||5325 Overbrook Avenue||19131-1498||215-685-0298||Wynnefield and Overbrook Farms|
|||Wyoming||231 East Wyoming Avenue||19120-4439||215-685-9158||Feltonville/Juniata Park|
- "The Nation's Largest Public Libraries: Top 25 Rankings". American Library Association. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
- "Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation".
- "Annual Report" (PDF). Free Library of Philadelphia. 2015.
- "About us: History". Free Library of Philadelphia.
- "Q&A for merger of The Rosenbach Museum and Library and Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation". The Rosenbach. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
- "The Central Library and Logan Circle: New Public Spaces". City of Philadelphia.
- "About the Library". main website. Free Library of Philadelphia. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
- "Culinary Literacy Center".
- "Author Events" Free Library of Philadelphia
- "READ! by 4th".
- "Free Library Hot Spots".
- The Techmobile
- "Fels study shows Free Library’s economic impact" (PDF).
- Wolff, Edwin (1937). A descriptive catalogue of the John Frederick Lewis Collection of European manuscripts in the Free Library of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: The Library.
- Tanis, James (2001). Leaves of gold: manuscript illumination from Philadelphia collections. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-87633-145-3.
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