The Friends of Fishtown Library is dedicated to supporting the Fishtown branch of the Free Library in the face of ongoing budget cuts. Members of the group met on April 11 to discuss Mayor Kenney’s recently released budget and what that meant for trying to support the library.
Many expressed their concerns over the staffing and funding issues.
“The central branch isn’t even open on the weekends anymore,” said Krisit Bennett, president of Friends of Fishtown Library. “They’re not even open past five. They always used to be open.”
Like other library branches in the city, the Fishtown branch is also experiencing a staff shortage. Due to the lack of staff, the library is unable to stay open until 5 p.m. most days, and is rarely open on weekends.
Most staffing problems go back to the overall library system budget. Though the Free Library asked for an overall budget increase of $30 million dollars for next year, Mayor Kenney’s proposed budget for the fiscal year of $8,423,518.
“We didn’t even get $10 million,” said FOFL member Jessica Johnson “It’s simply money. They cut us in 2008, and all of this is well documented. We don’t have enough staff to be open.”
Since 2008, the FOFL have been trying to restore the library to the sufficiency it had in the past. Though with the proposed budget of 2023, they won’t be able to.
“That $30 million doesn’t just come out of the air,” Bennet said. “That amount of money is what it would take just to restore the libraries to the level of funding it had before.”
Of the Free Library’s 54 branches, there isn’t nearly enough staff for any location to be open for five days a week. This means that even on most Saturdays, children aren’t able to enjoy the library. Restoring the library system’s budget would not guarantee the return of weekend service.
“That money would just get us to 5-day service,” Bennet said. “We would not get Saturday hours with that. There’s no way.”
Despite the lack of funding, members of FOFL hope to provide services and events through the library for the community.
During the pandemic, they weren’t able to hold events, but after two years, are planning various events. However, lack of funding in the new City budget means the group is running into new obstacles as they try to find ways to support the library.
Currently, the Fishtown Library offers LEAP, a popular after-school program for children. The after-school programs are the first in-person offerings the library has been able to host this year, but can only be offered on days there are enough staff to supervise the events.
“We’ve been open less hours, but we’ve been busy in those hours,” said FOFL member and library employee Aimee Trasher-Hanson.
At the same time, more families and new residents have been using the library, especially since the start of the pandemic.
“We’re seeing a lot of new people to the neighborhood,” Thrasher-Hanson said. “I would say a good fifty percent of people that we’re seeing are people who have moved here in the past two years.”
Aside from the day-to-day work of loaning and cataloging books and offering various programs, there is also the added work of getting new residents library cards and sharing with them the information they need to get to know the neighborhood.
“We have gotten busier and it’s a lot of new people,” Thrasher-Hanson said.
Even before the pandemic, the Friends of Fishtown Library had been dependent on volunteers and creative thinking to keep offering programming to local families.
With Earth Day coming up, the library plans to offer crafts for children as they had in previous years.
“I have this tissue we can use if anybody needs it,” Johnson said, holding up a ream of tissue paper left over from a prior event.
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