Building Inspiration

Building Inspiration

Building Inspiration

The 21st Century Libraries Initiative reimagines libraries as gateways to learning, economic opportunity, and community engagement.

One in every two Philadelphians visited the Free Library of Philadelphia last year. They posed 3 million reference questions and borrowed more than 7 million items. But numbers only tell half the story.

Playing An Essential Role

Long a critical resource, libraries are now hubs of civic engagement, meeting changing community needs as other institutions close. They are engines of economic security, providing a host of services to job seekers. They are after-school enrichment for children, incubators for entrepreneurs, gateways for health insurance enrollment, technology centers for seniors, even culinary classrooms for aspiring chefs.

Preparing for Change

To help the Free Library’s infrastructure match its evolving mission, the Foundation made a landmark $25 million grant—the largest individual grant in Foundation history—launching the 21st Century Libraries Initiative. The multi-year effort will reinvent libraries as gateways to literacy, opportunity, and engagement and ensure that they can meet the ever-evolving needs of the community.

Reimagining Great Spaces

Libraries offer great physical and virtual spaces that are essential public resources in underserved communities. The Initiative draws on a new, community-driven model for libraries. It will reconfigure space for community use, creating vibrant centers where residents can gather to discuss timely issues or hear speakers of distinction.

Parkway Central Library

Two new public spaces will serve as centerpieces of the 90-year-old Central Library. The Common will be a welcoming space where the community can create, collaborate, and share ideas. Nearby, the Business Research and Innovation Center will house all business and career resources, aiding small businesses and those looking for employment.

Neighborhood Libraries

Community libraries enthrall children during story hour, advise adults on resumes, and teach seniors to use computers. Each library’s priorities differ based on the needs of the people it serves. With community input, the Free Library is renovating space and programs at five community libraries to serve as models for all others.

Community Partnerships

With shrinking instructional resources, our public schools struggle to meet student literacy and technology needs. The Free Library is expanding its work with the School District of Philadelphia, which will better connect libraries to schools and provide enhanced academic support and a broader range of student services.

The Impact

6 million visitors annually

9 million online visitors

500,000 cardholders

24,000 programs

9,000 small businesses supported

70,000 children in afterschool programs

30 languages spoken

500,000 e-books downloaded

Photos courtesy Free Library of Philadelphia