Neighbors respond to Fumo Saturday closings

The Free Library of Philadelphia recently cut Saturday hours in branches across the city, including Fumo Family Library.

Two weeks ago, the Free Library of Philadelphia announced the Saturday closings of nearly half of the branches across the city, including Fumo Family Library, due to staffing constraints. Unless action is taken, the branch will be closed on the weekend throughout the year. (GRACE MAIORANO/ SOUTH PHILLY REVIEW)

At the latest Lower Moyamensing Civic Association general meeting, South Philly residents voiced concern to Councilman Mark Squilla about the Free Library of Philadelphia’s recent decision to cut Saturday hours in close to half of its 54 branches around the city, including Fumo Family Library, which is scheduled to stay closed on weekends throughout the rest of the year.

These cuts were made due to “staffing constraints,” the Free Library told SPR.

Squilla says he was informed of the cuts from local Friends of the Free Library groups just a few days before the first Saturday closing, Sept. 22.

Since then, he says he has reached out to the central branch for explanations, specifically seeking the methodology in how certain libraries were chosen to be affected over others.

“These are all the things that (council) is looking at to try to understand why all of a sudden and why did we just find out a week before they closed them or even two days before they made the announcement to close them?” Squilla said.

Squilla also reached out to the city controller’s office to see how much money would be needed from the general fund to reopen on Saturdays, questioning why the system made this decision in mid-September and didn’t consider personnel costs when the budget was adopted by city council in June.

“We had no time to react,” he said. “It’s already a done deal.”

The Free Library of Philadelphia’s 2019 FY fiscal budget totals $41,286,517 with $36,659,781 designated for employee compensation, according to the budget. This was a $514,487 increase over fiscal year 2018, which includes District Council 33 union pay increases, according to the 2019 budget.

As of December of last year, 663 of 692 full-time positions were filled, also according to the budget.

Squilla, who also reached out to the Free Library of Philadelphia president Siobhan Reardon regarding a potential audit of the library system, says Fumo is currently fully staffed.

Members of the meeting questioned how many of these positions are administration and high-level librarians who are not necessarily doing librarian work.

For Fumo specifically, Saturday closing means the elimination of special and regularly scheduled events, including some programs that were established through grants the system received this past year, such as Drag Queen Story Time and activities designed for children with special needs.

“That library — there’s always people in there,” Patti Tahan, president of LoMO, told SPR. “People very often are waiting at the door for them to open on Saturday. We have people lined up waiting. There’s a need there. … There’s something for everybody, and people get exposed to things they wouldn’t be exposed to otherwise except for at the library.”

Currently, there are two South Philly branches open on Saturdays, including South Philadelphia Library and Charles Santore Library.

Squilla and other individuals suggested the Free Library of Philadelphia conduct a hearing before city council.

SPR reached out to the Free Library of Philadelphia requesting an interview regarding the closings, but was not granted an interview.

“I’ll bet if the library staff thinks they’re going to have a hearing before city council,” said LoMo vice president Al Gerard said at meeting. “They’re gonna find some money.”

Info: On Oct. 16, Friends of the Philadelphia Free Library will host a meeting regarding the Saturday cuts at 6 p.m. at Thomas F. Donatucci Library, located at 20th and Shunk streets.