The Free Library of Philadelphia: Visit and Be Inspired

If you have read my blogs about Philadelphia, you know I am a transplant from Baltimore, and that I am over the moon about the extraordinary cultural banquet offered here in every conceivable way. If you visit Philly for a week, you can have a fulfilling and exhilarating cultural opportunities each day. Plus, in this (and every regard), you will find us to be an exceedingly child friendly city. As an example, this week my ten year old grandson and I are going to our center city (downtown) Kimmel Center to hear John William's delightful score performed by our Philadelphia Orchestra to accompany the film classic, Home Alone.

Today I am going to move from our traditional cultural events and introduce you to our committed and vibrant Free Library of Philadelphia, an organization that offers Philadelphians innumerable opportunities for our multicultural city to come together, and is completely devoted to our city's youth. It is not possible to give you the full offering of our library system, but I will try to introduce you to some highlights.....

One of our city's most extraordinary library programs is LEAP, the incredible Literacy Enrichment Afterschool Program, one that reaches 70,000 Philadelphia children each year. At the end of their school day, Philly children gravitate to their neighborhood libraries where they work with paid Teen Learning Assistants, who answer homework questions and provide literacy activities. As you can imagine, this program is win-win for students and TLAs alike. All of the TLAs graduate from high school, and many pursue degrees in Library Science.

Although the LEAP program is for Philadelphia area children, the following is open to you, and would be well worth your visit and participation. Inaugurated in 1994, the Library's Author Events program offers all who attend the opportunity to share with today's most celebrated voices in the sciences and humanities. Praised by our local paper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, which has won ten Pulitzers (and I believe deserves another for their recent series exposing the lethal lead poisoning that continues to threaten and impair so many children in major cities), the Library's Author Events program has earned three "Best of Philly" designations from Philadelphia Magazine.

Since its beginning, the Author Events program has grown and now introduces the public to more than 125 authors each year. Most author events are held at Parkway Central Library, located at 1901 Vine Street in center city (downtown) Philadelphia. An evening event features an author's presentation, a Q&A with the audience, and a book signing with fans. Books are sold on-site, and doors open 45 minutes prior to event start times. No tickets or reservations are required for free author events. I urge you to join these exciting evenings. For information about our 2017 programs, telephone the Author Events Office (215 567 4341) or email authorevents@freelibrary.org.

Here is another library program that will knock your socks off! Celebrating its 15th anniversary in 2017, "One Book, One Philadelphia" is a signature event that promotes literacy, library usage, and citywide conversation by encouraging the entire greater Philadelphia area to come together through reading and discussing a single book. From January 25 to March 23, 2017 nearly 100 events and programs (many geared for children) will center around this year's chosen book, The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon.

"One Book, One Philadelphia educates, inspires, and uplifts. It is chaired by ardent reader, Marie Field, a former highly respected and gifted elementary school teacher who cherishes words and the way they interact and relate to each other. Other cities offer a similar program. However, if you attend one of our events and your city does not offer parallel programs, chances are strong you will return home to encourage your community to unite in similar meaningful ways. Learn more on the Free Library of Philadelphia web-site, http://freelibrary.org.

Many Philadelphians will tell you that there has been no more uplifting and exciting library event than the presence of Bruce Springsteen on September 29. According to library spokesperson, Sandy Horrocks, tickets offered on line (through the events page of the library website) sold out in nine minutes. Due to the volume of those trying to attend, the library phone system went into overload and the web site crashed.

Springsteen was not scheduled to speak, and he said not a public word. Instead, the gathering was a personal meet and greet: For $33 those fortunate enough to secure tickets got a pre-signed copy of Springsteen's recent book, Born to Run, could shake his hand, speak to him, and take a selfie. As you can imagine, the line of 1200 circled many blocks; yet, no one I saw or heard complained about the wait.

I watched the exchanges from a walled off press section close to the podium where greetings took place. Bruce Springsteen rushed no one. (Nor did our library's extraordinary staff professionals.) He shook hands warmly and gave hugs when requested. Parents and neighbors brought children. Pregnant women wanted their "about to be born" to meet "The Boss." I could see and hear Springsteen comfort some of various ages who said they were struggling with illnesses. Several wept. At times Bruce Springsteen's eyes misted with those who longed to connect with him. Those standing outside of the library as the event was ending spoke very quietly, if at all. One woman said, "He is the real deal," and all around her nodded. The same can be said of the Free Library of Philadelphia.