North Philadelphia: Community Supports Library Amid Budget Crunch

Washika Campfield is a West Philadelphia native who frequents the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Cecil B. Moore branch, which is across the city from her residence, and has been doing so for over 10 years.

She mostly uses the library computers and hardcover books for research.

“I like this library because it’s peaceful, it’s quiet and you get a lot of help,” she said. “The computers are easily accessible and they have a lot of programs for the children.”

Campfield’s job as a certified nursing assistant brings her to North Philadelphia, where most of her patients live, as well as some of her family members, including her grandmother before she recently passed away.

The library means a lot to Campfield because it has a caring and attentive staff, often asking the librarians for help using the computers and locating books on the bookshelves. She said the library is a good resource for the community and a safe haven for children and families in it. But she also feels there should be more staff, updated and faster computers and a better ambiance.

“All that comes with a budget from the City,” she said. “So we can go on and on for days about what we could do to make it better but it’s the money there and the budget, that’s the real question.”

Serving Strawberry Mansion, Brewerytown and Sharswood, this library is a literary hub for individuals and families in its surrounding neighborhoods. However, it may not have the capacity to serve the community members because of limited services caused by cuts to state and city funding.

Kayla Hoskinson, a children’s librarian in the branch and a member in the 47th District Council of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, said that a limited programming budget means fewer services.

According to her, library branch budgets consist of two categories: materials budget and programming budget. The materials budget covers things like books, ebooks, films on DVD and other related items. Programming budget covers programs, events and workshops the library hosts.

“What we use it [programming budget] for here is paying for performers to come in or people who can lead workshops,” Hoskinson said. “The budget is pretty small, so it limits what we can do.”

According to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s annual report for the 2017 fiscal year, the library system had close to $4.5 million in materials budget. Hoskinson isn’t sure how that amount is distributed among the different branches.

Library supporters and branches across the city have petitioned for a $15 million increase in the Free Library’s budget. Staffing needs and building emergencies in libraries across the city have led to limited hours and unexpected closures, and the Cecil B. Moore branch is not exempt.

In the past few months, the branch has announced early closings or non-openings due to staff shortages and an old heating and cooling system keeps the building closed when the weather gets too hot or too cold.

“There are certain temperature levels that we can’t operate at [and] we have to shut down if it goes over or under a certain amount, which is unfortunate because we’re supposed to be open to the public and a safe space for the public,” Hoskinson said.

In the face of budget limits, the Friends of Cecil B. Moore Library, a group of community volunteers and library supporters, seek other funding opportunities. The group holds community engagement events and advocate for the library through the appropriate city agencies.

Jacqueline Wiggins is a long time Philadelphia resident and volunteers for the Friends of Cecil B. Moore Library. Wiggins fondly remembers the library’s opening in 1962 and what it meant to her as a child.

“I was like in 5th or 6th grade, [and] I remember going to that beautiful new library,” she said.  “But now it’s not so anymore and my sense is that there’s a need for a new library.”

Wiggins joined the friends group in 2014 and has helped it apply to the Philadelphia Activities Fund, a city grant that supports communities for projects that improve sportsmanship, the arts and health. Grants from this fund are a significant part of the Cecil B. Moore branch’s funding.

Jarold Siler, the president of Friends of Cecil B. Moore, has been in the position for five years.

“The greatest satisfaction I get is providing a service and seeing the benefit of that service to different participants,” he said.

The friends group organizes events and workshops for the branch to help raise funds. These events include annual back to school ice-cream socials, where it gives out school supplies to community members, Zoo on Wheels and movie screenings with commentaries centered around black culture. The group also organized and raised funds for a Pre-Kwanzaa celebration.

Siler said the friends group, which currently has six regular members, needs more volunteers to keep the library running. It hopes to continue raising funds to provide materials and programming, and to advocate for the library when need arises.

“In Philadelphia, there’s gonna be reduced levels of poverty,” he said. “One of the vehicles to do that is the library system. But, you have to have libraries that have strong programming that would aid the community to move out of that low-income situation.”

There’s a donation link on the library website that allows supporters to donate and, according to Hoskinson, people also come in person to donate. Those funds help run the library and cover needs its regular funding may not cover.

“It means a lot to me,” Campfield said of the library. “It’s a big use for the community and the children. With everything going on today, it gives the kids a safe haven to have a chance to expand their education and enjoy their hopes and dreams and aspirations.”

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