The Nicetown-Tioga Library dates back to 1961 and inhibits a space which was called Linton’s Restaurant. The current adult/teen librarian, Marsha Stender, is not just your average librarian. She also gives encouragement, confidence and hope by helping adults and teens find books, use computers and navigate their lives.
How long have you been working at this this library?
Well, I’ve been a librarian for nine years in Philadelphia and I have been at this branch for a little over a year.
What impact does the library have in this community?
Huge. We’re a poor neighborhood. Most of our patrons do not have internet access at home. Some may have it on their phone. We have a tremendous demand for computer use and we have many people who are not computer users. So, they also need a tremendous amount of support. We have a lot of patrons coming to borrow movies and we have an afterschool program. We have lots of kids who come in that may or may not have a parent at home able to help them. We do a lot of homework help and other stuff.
How does your position as a librarian affect people in the community?
I had people come back all the time and tell me they got the job because I helped them with their resume. I have lots of people who are looking for suggestions for what does a third grader read. They’re totally clueless when trying to look for books for their child. We supplement a lot of what schools would do on a good day. And, of course, there’s lots of reading material. You get lots of people looking through our career and test selection and we now have a GED class. We are the last resort for people.
What are the challenges that either you or the library face in the community, specifically focusing on a few years ago? There was a threat from Mayor Nutter that many libraries were going to get shut down.
Staff have to train people – who are coming and going because a lot of staff are retiring or going to other places. Another challenge is there’s so much demand for computer help. We’re hoping to get a computer lab and a digital resource specialist.
There was such an uproar amongst the public I think the mayor underestimated how much Philadelphians want and need their libraries. In a lot of cities, they’ve gone to centralizing services. It’s just like the loss of neighborhood schools – bigger schools, fewer of them – and that has been the trend with libraries consolidation. But people like to have services nearby in their own neighborhood rather than travel elsewhere. People like local services.
Besides the library, are there any community services that are provided in this area that aid Philadelphians?
There are shelters for domestic abuse, for drug and alcohol addiction. There are a significant number of returning citizens, people who spend time in jail. Down the street from us is The Center for Returning Citizens that provides a lot of services. They’re relatively new and we overlap with them. I get a lot people coming out of prisons looking for jobs, so that’s particular to this location and we try to be as open and welcoming as we can.
We get a lot of sick people. I wish there were mobile showers and laundry facilities [for them to use].
– Text and Images by Jennifer Joselin and Sieara McLeod.