Philadelphia Free Library System saved!

A massive letter-writing and email campaign has saved Philadelphia's Free Library System from closure, just days before it was scheduled to shut forever:
Just minutes ago, the Pennsylvania State senate passed bill 1828 by a vote of 32 to 17. For all of you who have been following the saga over the city's budget crisis, this is indeed the legislation that was needed for the City of Philadelphia to avoid the "Doomsday" Plan C budget scenario, which would have resulted in the layoff of 3,000 city employees and forced the closing of all libraries.

We are enormously grateful to everyone who advocated on our behalf. More than 2,000 letters to state legislators were collected from our libraries, and countless others made calls and sent emails underscoring how important public libraries are to the economic, educational and social life of our city. We also thank our incredible library staff, who despite the threat of imminent layoffs continued to provide excellent service to the thousands of people who use one of the 54 libraries in our system.

Breaking News - Legislation to keep libraries open passes! (via Consumerist)


  1. Well, there’s a big shocker.

    Also, the Washington Monument has never actually closed, despite repeated threats by the Park Service to close it whenever budgets were tight.

  2. As grateful as we all are that the Free Library was saved from (temporary) closure, it was less about letter writing and more about cynical power plays in the state legislature.

    To review: rural Republicans in the legislature were holding up a 1% sales tax increase for Philly that the city needed to maintain not just the libraries, but the parks district, weekly trash collection, the city planning commission, swimming pools, and many other municipal services. They were playing games with our city in hopes of overhauling the state pension system.

    At the 11th hour, they finally got a deal done, granting us the sales tax increase, plus surprises like concessions to the state’s casinos and a “culture tax” on museum and concert tickets.

    See for details.

    It’s been incredibly gratifying to see how much Philadelphia and the rest of the world values our libraries, but sadly they’re a small part of a bigger uglier story.

  3. So why didn’t the city raise property taxes to cover city services – why should the rural inhabitants who are not getting their trash collected be paying for the urbanites? A sales increase is a sneaky way to pass the cost over to those who aren’t using a service. Glad that the libraries are safe, but that is not a nice way to cover city expenses.

  4. “A massive letter-writing and email campaign has saved Philadelphia’s Free Library System from closure, just days before it was scheduled to shut forever:”

    That is kind of misleading. It was a BUNCH of projects that were facing closure. Again – Philadelphia isn’t anti-library and the State Senate didn’t grant money to magically save ONLY the library.

    This story is about a city budget and the libraries are barely part of it.

  5. Really, unless they were taking a stand against the concessions involved in making this bill go through, as noted above, I have to wonder about the 17 who voted against this…

  6. Cory,

    Don’t be naive. The library system wasn’t ‘saved’ by a magical letter-writing campaign.

    The very threat of its closing was only one maneuver in a little theater of political brinksmanship happening in Pennsylvania right now.

  7. “So why didn’t the city raise property taxes to cover city services – why should the rural inhabitants who are not getting their trash collected be paying for the urbanites? A sales increase is a sneaky way to pass the cost over to those who aren’t using a service. Glad that the libraries are safe, but that is not a nice way to cover city expenses.”

    The sales tax only applies to Philadelphia (the city itself) and it’s for five years only.

  8. Libraries are nice and all, but personally I think the money would be better spent translating great works of literature into emoji.

  9. Devil’s Advocate here…
    Libraries are canaries in the coal mine of legislation. They benefit all, for a relative pittance. They are an easy target, both for budget reductions and for massive “Save the ____” campaigns. When politicians target libraries to be cut, what else are they negotiating behind the scenes?

  10. Commenter #6 COG is correct. Fiscal brinksmanship is the name of the game in Philly/PA politics.

    As for ‘grassroots book sharing’ in Philly (from a comment on a previous post about this topic), Ben Franklin started the first lending library in Philadelphia. Philadelphia still has some private libraries that are free & open to the public and community at large if you go look for them. (Franklin’s original one is called the Library Company and is located on Locust St in Philly and still operates. Also there is one in Germantown affiliated with a private school but open to the community w/a great children’s reading room.)

  11. Sign of the times… sadly the ‘saving’ has nothing to do with letter writing and all to do with politics and brinkmanship. No pat on the back awarded here.

  12. Regardless of how it was saved; the important thing is that the libraries did not shut down, and jobs were saved. It may be a tax burden for some, but ensuring that for students who need it have access to research and reading materials is a small price to pay. The letter writing may have only made some people feel better, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt, and the library system needed any support they could get. Just having libraries is not a fix all for a city with a lot of problems, true, but I do not want to imagine a city without books. The internet may be far reaching and ever expanding, but it is still no replacement for libraries or other sources for books, as not everyone has internet access. I for one am thankful and relieved that the libraries will remain open.

  13. And countless Randian Supermen, bow their noble heads and allow a single tear to escape from a tightly closed eye.

    They clench a Cheeto dust-stained hand, and swear on their collected works of Rand and Milton (Freidman, that is) that one day, ONE DAY, the Randian Utopia WILL BE REALIZED!

    And on that day, they will leave the basement of the parental units and stride forth, to set the blazing torch of Purification to the dens of Socialist Death known as The Public Library!

    And then, life will be like something like what L. Neil Smith would write if he wrote stroke books for Randroids.

    Oh, wait. That what he already writes.

    Never mind.

  14. One fiscal problem that is somehwat unique to Philadelphia is that at one time or another over the past few decades, the state has taken over some operations due to corruption, mismanagement, or mere power brokering.

    In particular, one of the entities controlled by the state is the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which means parking ticket revenues and parking taxes go into state coffers. While it’s nice to see $30 parking tickets in Center City after coming from the three-digit parking fines of Manhattan, it also means that this easy method of raising revenue isn’t in the cards for Philly.

    Another revenue problem vis a vis property taxes is that the assessment board is completely corrupt ( for gory details )and, at present, beyond the reach of city government to reform ( )

  15. Yes, the libraries remain open. Things did not get worse. But let’s remember that things already suck in the Free Library system. They’ve lost a massive amount of staff already; there were layoffs in the last round of “oh my god, they’re going to close some branches” frenzy, which layoffs were promptly forgotten after the branches were “saved”.

    It seems to me that Mayor Nutter is cynically using the library system as a hostage, in order to stir up the public to press the state for more money for the city. But when the state does relent, Nutter still deprives the library system of staff.

    Libraries are more than just keeping the doors open. They are the staffers who can help people find the materials that they need. So great, the libraries remain open. For the people who work there, it sucks. And patrons get shortchanged.

  16. I am 61yr.F & retired due to disability. I happen to LOVE reading w/a vengence. In my last lifetime, in another city, I bought bks for a large urban lib. system, btw. Working for a Library never diminished my love of bks & research. It only expanded my awareness of what was “out there”.

    I moved to Philadelphia, recently. I love this beautiful city and it’s people. The public lib. branch in Germantown is a gem and I was just learning to enjoy it! I could not believe the excellent service and maintenance of Lib. I reserved 5 popular bks, some best-sellers and within 2 days all 5 bks were at my lib. to be picked up. That is amazing service! When this lib. was threatened, this old lady’s heart was broken. I can’t afford all the bks I want to read, many of them are not avail at stores like Borders. As I mentioned, I also enjoy researching esoteric/acad. areas at times. My library’s closure would have been a real damper on quality of life!

    Thank you to all those who listend & worked to save the Library! How brutal for people to make nasty comments on such a positive group effort, that succeeded, in keeping this gift available.

  17. Whenever Philadelphia needs money it threatens to close down services that will garner the most pity: libraries, police, fire, etc, when in reality they need not close any of them down… but it makes the state look bad if it happens.

    Philly uses their threats against the state as blackmail.

  18. saved…kinda. from library journal: “After nearly 100 days of deadlock on the Pennsylvania state budget, legislators last week agreed to a compromise, including a 26.7% slash in state support for libraries, from $93,246,000 to $68,322,000, cutting back on direct public library aid and even more so on statewide services.”

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