In Council News, Helen Gym, Isaiah Thomas, Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, Mark Squilla, News by PHL Council

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Extended Hours and Increased Staffing Would Support Anti-Violence Initiatives

PHILADELPHIA — Today, Councilmember Helen Gym joined City Council colleagues, AFSCME DC 33 and DC 47 leadership, and community advocates in calling for the urgent funding of Philadelphia’s public libraries to guarantee year-round operation six days a week at every neighborhood library.

“Our city’s safety, prosperity, and future depends on the strength of our public institutions — and that means robust, well-resourced libraries, for every community in our city,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). “From providing essential public health resources to support finding employment to offering a safe space for our young people to find mentorship, our libraries can be a critical network of anti-violence community centers, if we give them the funding they need.”

Across the city’s 54 neighborhood libraries, annual funding is at just 75% of the level received in 2008, adjusted for inflation, and staffing is at just 65% of the level reached in 2009. Within the School District of Philadelphia, there are currently less than 10 librarians, down from over 175 librarians in the 1990s. Research conducted within Philadelphia’s public libraries found the system supports nearly 500,000 people each year with programming around public health, housing, and literacy. Yet, most neighborhood libraries are open less than four days each week, struggle to keep regular hours due to staffing shortages, and few have evening or weekend hours.

“We’re talking about an endless amount of underappreciated and underfunded potential. Libraries are trusted public institutions accessible to every community in our city, and now is the time to leverage their full power,” said Gym. “It’s our best resource to meet people where they already are.”

“DC 47 members staff libraries in every single neighborhood in Philly,” said Cathy Scott, President, AFSCME DC 47. “This budget cycle, Mayor Kenney and City Council have an opportunity to invest in a valuable City institution that could provide truly reliable safe spaces for Philadelphia communities. DC 47 supports the call for a $30 million dollar increase in the FY 2023 City budget for libraries. This increase would allow libraries to be open 6 days per week, provide for longer hours, safe buildings, and eliminate branch closures due to lack of staff.”

“Our libraries and many of the communities they serve have endured decades of disinvestment by the city and been told to make do with less — closed branches, outdated materials and limited programming,” said Arrick Underhill, North Philadelphia library worker, AFSCME DC47 Local 2187 member. “Libraries are part of an essential network of local resources that provide Philadelphians with opportunities to learn, work, and grow. It’s time for the city of Philadelphia to prioritize the future of these communities.”

“As a frontline library worker who is not yet a librarian, I am one of 350 workers who are library assistants, municipal guards, electricians, maintenance and clerical workers,” said Jay McCue, Northeast Philadelphia library worker, AFSCME DC33 Local 696 member. “We keep all 54 library locations running, but we are among the lowest paid and most ignored. We call on you Mayor Kenney to restore our funding this fiscal year.”

“It’s no coincidence that we saw such dramatic spikes in gun violence when our neighborhoods were cut off from virtually every resource they have access to,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier (District 3). “We have to see major investments in our young people and our communities as key to our city’s anti-violence work. Libraries are lifelines in our neighborhoods — places for our young people to learn, explore their interests, and have fun in a safe, nurturing environment.”

“Libraries changed my life, and libraries saved my life,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks (At-Large). “Every single child in this city deserves the same opportunities that libraries gave to me — the opportunity to dream, and to dream big. That’s why it’s essential that we fight for every neighborhood library to offer that opportunity to their community, and why we’ll fight for them to win the full funding they deserve.”

“We love our library. We use our library, and we depend on it,” said Linda Colwell-Smith, Co-Chair, Friends of the Free Library. “The branch library is the heart of our neighborhood, a safe place. Yet our library system is underfunded, understaffed, in poor physical condition and often unexpectedly closed. How do we fix this? With more funding. Show us you care, Mayor Kenney and City Council. Fully fund our precious Free Library system. Strong libraries are essential!”

“Before the pandemic, Philadelphia libraries saw horrible cuts that have not been fully brough back,” said Councilmember Isaiah Thomas (At-Large). “This budget cycle, we have an opportunity to restore and surpass previous funding levels to increase hours, staffing and other resources. Libraries are essential — we have to fund them that way.”

“Libraries provide a safe haven for the residents of Philadelphia,” said Councilmember Mark Squilla (District 1). “They need to be open, fully staffed and operational 6 days a week, all year long; we need to increase their funding to make this a reality.”

“Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and every neighborhood in Philly deserves a fully functioning library,” said Erme Maula, Advocacy Committee Lead, Friends of the Free Library. “That means neighborhood libraries are funded to open 6 days a week, all year; that every library has a Children, Teen, and Adult Librarian + Digital Resource Specialist; that the City funds paid education for staff career advancement, a full capital budget to make our buildings safe and that each branch is guaranteed $10,000 each year per library for programs.”

“Strong Libraries are essential!” said Yvette Hill Robinson, Co-Chair, Friends of the Free Library. “Our busy season, Summer, is coming. Libraries will be getting a lot of families with children who can’t afford to go on vacation and are looking for affordable summer enrichment experiences. People depend on their libraries even more in the summer. In order to do this, we have to be open and fully staffed. Our community needs us. We have to be ready to go!”


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