The 21st Century Libraries Initiative reimagines libraries as gateways to learning, economic opportunity, and community engagement.
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.
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.
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.
6 million visitors annually
9 million online visitors
9,000 small businesses supported
70,000 children in afterschool programs
30 languages spoken
500,000 e-books downloaded