Free Library of Philadelphia

Left: Japan’s Cherry Blossom Queen, touring the U.S., joins the Philadelphia City Institute Library’s Read-a-Thon. The queen reads each page of Angus Lost in Japanese after Children’s Librarian Karen Fleck reads it in English.

The Free Library is strongly committed to serving the City’s young people - and supporting their families and schools in nurturing and educating them. Below are some of the Library programs that do that. Others, such as Summer Reading, appear elsewhere in this report.

" Lap-Sit Story Time," "Come-in-Your-Jammies Story Time,"“Interactive Story Time”: Countless story hours help very young children learn to pay attention to the soothing music of sentences - then to understand stories, to imagine other lives, and to love books

Books Aloud! programs across the City teach parents and child-care staff members about reading aloud and developing early literacy skills in young children.

LEAP, the Library’s after school program, serves many thousands of young Philadelphians with homework help, computer assistance, and special programs. Its 200 paid Teen Leadership Assistants (TLAs) provide key leadership, while local college students serve as Associate Leaders, training TLAs and designing technology programs. LEAP is funded by the City, with additional support from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds, the William Penn Foundation, and an individual donor. For more about LEAP, see “Awards.”

New this year is LEAP Online, which allows students at fifteen libraries to direct more-difficult questions to online tutors - and get immediate live responses. During a tutoring session, student and tutor can write and draw diagrams on the screen and access web sites together. Funded this year by a grant from the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), LEAP Online will next year be extended to all libraries, through a combination of public and private support.

LEAP’s Teen Leadership Assistants planned the annual Youth Empowerment Summit (YES), which drew more than 325 City teens for an exciting day of workshops and idea-sharing. The keynote speaker, author Solomon Jones, told a rapt audience about his own life’s version of the Summit’s theme, “Walking to a Different Beat.” The Summit was funded by the City, The Petersmeyer Family Foundation, the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the William Penn Foundation.

Library staff members visit all local schools to promote library programs and suggest resources for classes. Meanwhile, students regularly visit libraries - individually as well as in classes - to do research, write reports, and borrow books.

Two years ago, Margareth Contreras arrived from Venezuela speaking very little English. This June she was valedictorian of the graduating class at her middle school. Soon afterward, she and her mother came to the Kensington Branch to thank librarians Juanita Vega-DeJoseph and Marcela Franco for all their help with Margereth’s language barrier and her on-going research needs. Margareth says, “Juanita and Marcela always have time for you, or tell you when they can help. You always go out of the library with your problem solved. They do their best all the time.” She will attend Central High School this fall.
Libraries tailor many programs individually. At Rowen Elementary School, Librarian Rebecca Gueorguiev of the Oak Lane Branch and Northwest Area Coordinator Barbara Baumgartner work with the principal to present a monthly Parent Workshop on subjects like strategies for homework help and monitoring children’s TV viewing.

Poetry Slams are the rage! At the Central Library, 42 teens from 36 schools read their work to 250 listeners. Twenty others performed at a West Philadelphia Regional Library slam, where parents and teachers also took part. Each month at the Lovett Memorial Branch, about 20 adults and teens come together to read their own poetry and applaud each other’s work. At slams, the tough realities of life are powerfully shared and transcended.

A few libraries are piloting Teen Cafés - afternoon clubs with staff-supported activities run by teens. Typical programs feature improvisational drama, clothing design, mock trials, mural painting, and talent shows. Additional support from the staffs of Americorps’s City Year and EducationWorks has increased the youthful energy of the cafés.

About 250 teens serve as volunteer Teen Book Critics. Published excerpts of their reviews help guide their peers as well as librarians and teachers in selecting books for teen reading.