The Tacony Neighborhood Library – one of the original three Carnegie libraries in Philadelphia – celebrated its 110th anniversary Wednesday, on the eve of its temporary closing for renovations.
City Councilman Bobby Henon, Tacony Historical Society staff, librarians and neighbors came out for a kids’ party, a reception for adults, and a historical look back at the last 110 years of the library’s life.
The library closes Thursday at 6 p.m. as part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s “Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries” campaign, which was made possible by a $25 million gift from the William Penn Foundation and which aims at restoring and modernizing libraries across the city.
“One by one, each branch of the free libraries will be renovated under this campaign,” said Suzin Weber, supervisor of Tacony Neighborhood Library.
“We’re part of the first round.”
She said three other branches are closing Thursday, along with Tacony, and each branch will get an addition. Tacony’s includes a small business center in its basement, which is intended to attract new entrepreneurs on Torresdale Avenue and in conjunction with the Tacony Revitalization Small Business Project.
During the renovation period, Henon’s office is sponsoring a satellite library called the Tacony Library and Arts Building (LAB), which will be the temporary mini-library for families to use while renovations are under way at the main site. The LAB will open this summer and feature a community gathering space, library and more than 6,000 art installations and programming featured by the city's Mural Arts Program.
“It’s definitely a scaled down version of the amount of materials most frequently requested,” said Andrea Zimmerman, a Northeast Neighborhood Libraries Cluster Leader, who helps manage the library branches in all facets from staff development to community outreach to book collection.
“People would have to go to the nearest library without this.”
Henon said Tacony's is the oldest library in his district.
“The purpose of the library is to build community and educate its children. Tacony was founded under the philosophy of a good, strong education and community, and I’m happy to celebrate the 110th birthday of the library and all it’s people,” he said.
Henon said the temporary LAB, which will open at the end of April, is being paid for solely from private funds. It was formerly a vacant building on Torresdale Avenue and Henon said it fits perfectly with the ambiance of Tacony’s commercial corridor.
“This way, the community doesn’t lose the benefit of children’s books and access,” he said.
Asked if, in today’s modern world, Philadelphia’s libraries have a tough time competing with tech products like the Kindle or Nook – which in some ways have replaced paperback books for consumers – Weber said she hasn’t noticed a decline in library attendance.
“Particularly not here,” she said.
“Overall, there’s a great push to improve the literacy level of both families and children through the city, and the library is one of the primary partners in that.”
The estimated timeline for completion of the library renovations is 18 months. The LAB, however, will remain open for three years.