From senior self-defense classes to master gardener workshops, libraries across South Philadelphia are implementing a series of new programs thanks to a $20,000 state grant allocated by state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler.
The funds will be divided among three local branches: Fumo Family Library, Whitman Library and South Philadelphia Library, specifically to support regular programs oriented toward health and wellbeing.
“We know that libraries are safe spaces in our community…A lot of people who live in South Philly, they really count on it as a place to go after school or go when it’s cold or rainy outside,” Fiedler said at an announcement at Fumo on Thursday. “And that combined with the amazing programming that’s going to be possible is going to draw even more people who live near the libraries.”
Over the last year, the Friends of the Free Library, an independent, nonprofit organization whose objective includes bridging the community with the city’s system, has advocated for a $15 million increase in city-funded library support, which includes staffing, maintenance and programming.
Through the “Fund Our Libraries” coalition, which was spearheaded in fall 2018, local branches have expressed concern about the lack of funds designated for programming.
In 2018, the South Philadelphia Library offered 1,465 programs to over 27,000 people on a programming budget of $400, averaging 27 cents for every program offered, according to the Friends.
“It’s very hard to sustain year-round programming – robust programming – with that little money,” said Abbe Klebanoff, Fumo Library branch manager. “So, this is such a gift. We couldn’t be more thankful and thrilled…This is incredible. We’ve never seen an influx like this.”
Klebanoff says this year she was given only about $250 for programming. Fumo Library’s children’s librarian was also granted $250, and another small sum was allocated for summer programming, according to Klebanoff.
But, she says this budget prohibits expanding programs to their full potential.
“The amount of money that they give, which is a grassroots sum of money, to do the basics for the children, it’s really a very minimal amount,” said Carol Pasquarello of the Friends of Fumo. “This money is going to be really beneficial to all of the additional programs that the Fumo library, particularly, and the Friends group here, is going to conduct for the programming for the children and the seniors…The grant is a godsend.”
After receiving the lump sum, each branch has the autonomy to plan its own programming revolving around the health of various demographics.
New and revamped workshops are geared toward everyone from infants to seniors.
“I think it’s really important that the programs are going to cover people across the whole life spectrum,” Fiedler said.
Fumo runs a monthly gathering called “Not a Typical Kid: A Support Group for Parents of Children with Autism.”
With Fiedler’s grant, Klebanoff says the support group can now finance more resources and speakers for the events.
These activities can spill into other realms of physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
“(Fiedler) is allowing us to be very creative about how we define health,” said Erme Maula of the Friends of Whitman. “It’s really exciting to help the library come up with some creative ways of looking at health.”
The grant has made a variety of programming possible at Whitman, including a workshop for making botanical products and a Khmer dance series led by the Cambodian American Girls Empowering organization.
The selection of new programming subscribes to libraries’ serving as the heart of local communities.
“Young people count on our libraries as safe places to go after school, older adults come to relax and talk with friends and many people of all ages stop by to read or check out books and to use the internet for communication and job applications,” Fiedler said. “I know this money will be well used by our libraries, and I am incredibly excited to be bringing this $20,000 grant back to South Philly.”