Free Library of Philadelphia

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Coordinates: 39°57′34″N 75°10′16″W / 39.9595°N 75.1710°W / 39.9595; -75.1710

Free Library of Philadelphia
LocationPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania
Items collectedChamber Music Collection
Children's Literature Research Collection
Drinker Choral Music Library
Early American Children's Books
Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music
Map Collection

Print and Picture Collection (largest in the U.S.A)
Rare Book Collections
Sheet Music Collection
Theatre Collection
Access and use
Population served1,560,297[1]
Other information
DirectorSiobhan A. Reardon

The Free Library of Philadelphia is the public library system that serves Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is the 13th-largest public library system in the United States.[2] Unique among public libraries in the United States, it is neither a city agency nor a nonprofit organization; instead, it is governed by both an independent city agency managed by its own board of directors and a separate nonprofit organization, The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation.[3]



The Free Library of Philadelphia was chartered in 1891 as "a general library which shall be free to all", through efforts led by Dr. William Pepper, who secured initial funding through a $225,000 bequest from his wealthy uncle, George S. Pepper. However, several libraries claimed the bequest, and only after the courts decided the money was intended to found a new public library did the Free Library finally open in March 1894. Its first location was three cramped rooms in City Hall. On February 11, 1895, the library was moved to the old Concert Hall at 1217-1221 Chestnut Street. Library officials criticized their new home as "an entirely unsuitable building, where its work is done in unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded quarters, temporary make-shifts". On December 1, 1910, the Library was moved again, to the northeast corner of 13th and Locust Streets. Today, the Free Library of Philadelphia system, comprising 54 neighborhood library locations and the Rosenbach, advances literacy, guides learning, and inspires curiosity with millions of digital and physical materials; 28,000 yearly programs and events; free public computers and Wi-Fi; and rich special collections. With more than 6 million in-person visits and millions more online annually, the Free Library and the Rosenbach are among the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia and boast a worldwide impact.

Parkway Central Library[edit]

Parkway Central Library

On June 2, 1927, the Parkway Central Library opened for service at its present location at 1901 Vine Street on Logan Square. The building had been in planning since 1911; various obstacles, including World War I, held up progress. The grand Beaux-Arts building was designed by Julian Abele, chief designer in the office of prominent Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, and first opened its doors in 1927. Its design, that of the adjacent Philadelphia Family Court building, and their placement on Logan Circle closely follow that of the Hôtel de Crillon and the Hôtel de la Marine on Paris's Place de la Concorde.[4]


The mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia is "to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity."[5]



The Free Library of Philadelphia hosts more than 25,000 events each year, including job-search workshops, small business programming, English as a Second Language conversation groups, and computer classes. The Free Library's Culinary Literacy Center,[6] which opened in the spring of 2014 at the Parkway Central Library, offers culinary classes for children, teens, families, and adults to teach literacy skills through cooking as well as math, chemistry, nutrition, and health. The Library hosts a renowned Author Events Series, which brings more than 100 writers, politicians, scientists, researchers, and musicians to the Free Library annually.[7] The Library also hosts the citywide One Book, One Philadelphia program, which encourages all Philadelphians to read and discuss the same book, fostering community and connection; the Summer Reading program, which engages some 50,000 Philadelphia school children each summer; and the Literacy Enrichment After-school Program (LEAP). In addition, the Free Library hosts months-long celebrations of literary milestones, from the birthdays of influential writers like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare to the publication anniversaries of groundbreaking titles like Pride and Prejudice and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

The Free Library also manages READ by 4th,[8] a citywide effort of public and private organizations aiming to significantly increase the number of students in Philadelphia entering the 4th grade at reading level by 2020. READ by 4th's comprehensive strategy includes improving early learning, providing parents with resources to teach their children reading skills, emphasizing summer reading and other strategies to prevent learning loss, decreasing absenteeism by addressing behavioral and health concerns, and enhancing reading instruction in schools.

Digital services[edit]

The Free Library's digital offerings include nearly 300,000 streaming or downloadable ebooks; 1,000 public computers; 1,700-plus author event podcasts; 150 online databases; daily homework and computer literacy classes online; Hot Spot community computer training centers; and the roving Techmobile.

Hot Spots initiative[edit]

In March 2011, the library launched Free Library Hot Spots, placing new computer labs and computer trainers in existing community centers in low-income areas of the city. The initiative was funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. Each Hot Spot provides computers, internet access, printers, and a small selection of Free Library materials. (These are in addition to the 650 public-access computers and free WiFi throughout the Free Library's 54 branches.)

In April 2012, the Free Library added The Techmobile, a Hot Spot on Wheels, which brings service to neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.[9][10] The Techmobile has six public laptops.


According to a study conducted by Penn's Fels Institute of Government, in 2017 nearly 25,000 people learned to read or taught someone else to read solely because of the resources of the Free Library. In addition, nearly 1,000 people found jobs based on the career resources of the Free Library, and some 8,600 entrepreneurs were able to start, grow or improve their small businesses because of programs and resources available free of charge at the Library.[11]

Special collections[edit]

Located at the Parkway Central Library, the Free Library's Special Collections[12] span genres and generations, from ancient cuneiform tablets to historic photographs of Philadelphia.

The Free Library of Philadelphia's Children's Literature Research Collection houses an extensive research collection of children's literature published after 1836.

The Rare Book Department features one of the world's most renowned Charles Dickens collections, with first editions, personal letters, and Dickens’ stuffed pet raven, Grip, as well as extensive collections of illuminated manuscripts, Americana, Beatrix Potter, early children's books, Edgar Allan Poe, Pennsylvania German folk art, and more. The collection includes over fifty Books of Hours and numerous bibles, liturgical texts, and psalters, including the Lewis Psalter (Lewis E M 185), a masterpiece of Parisian illumination from the reign of Saint Louis.[13]

The Free Library's music collections include the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, the largest lending library of orchestral performance sets in the world.

Additionally, the Rosenbach Museum & Library is a subsidiary of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation.[14]

Neighborhood libraries[edit]

In addition to the Parkway Central Library and the Rosenbach in downtown Philadelphia, the system operates 54 neighborhood and regional library locations throughout the city. Many of these locations were funded by Andrew Carnegie, who donated US$1.5 million to the library in 1903.[15]

Holmesburg Branch
Kingsessing Branch
Lehigh Avenue Branch
Oak Lane Branch
Passyunk Branch
Tacony Branch
Walnut Street Branch
Wyoming Branch
# Name Address Zip Code Phone Neighborhood(s) Served
[01] Andorra 705 East Cathedral Road 19128-2106 215-685-2552 Andorra and Upper Roxborough
[02] Blanche A. Nixon 5800 Cobbs Creek Parkway 19143-3036 215-685-1973 Cobbs Creek
[03] Bushrod 6304 Castor Avenue 19149-2731 215-685-1471 Oxford Circle, Castor Gardens, Upper Northwood, Summerdale, and the Lower Northeast
[04] Bustleton 10199 Bustleton Avenue 19116-3718 215-685-0472 Bustleton and Somerton
[05] Cecil B. Moore 2320 Cecil B. Moore Avenue 19121-2927 215-685-2766 North Central, Strawberry Mansion, Brewerytown, Sharswood, and the Johnson Homes
[06] Charles L. Durham 3320 Haverford Avenue 19104-2021 215-685-7436 Mantua and Powelton
[07] Charles Santore 932 South 7th Street 19147-2932 215-686-1766 Bella Vista, Queen Village, and Hawthorne
[08] Chestnut Hill 8711 Germantown Avenue 19118-2716 215- 685-9290 Chestnut Hill
[09] David Cohen Ogontz 6017 Ogontz Avenue 19141 215-685-3566 Ogontz and Belfield
[10] Eastwick 2851 Island Avenue 19153-2314 215-685-4170 Eastwick, Elmwood, Clearview, and Penrose Park
[11] Falls of Schuylkill 3501 Midvale Avenue 19129-1633 215-685-2093 East Falls
[12] Fishtown Community 1217 East Montgomery Avenue 19125-3445 215-685-9990 Fishtown and New Kensington
[13] Fox Chase 501 Rhawn Street 19111-2504 215-685-0547 Fox Chase/Burholme
[14] Frankford 4634 Frankford Avenue 19124-5804 215-685-1473 Frankford, Northwood, Bridesburg, and part of Juniata Park
[15] Fumo Family 2437 South Broad Street 19148-3508 215-685-1758 Melrose
[16] Greater Olney 5501 North 5th Street 19120-2805 215-685-2846 Olney
[17] Haddington 446 North 65th Street 19151-4003 215-685-1970 Haddington-Carroll Park and Overbrook-Morris Park
[18] Haverford 5543 Haverford Avenue 19139-1432 215-685-1964 Haddington-Carroll Park
[19] Holmesburg 7810 Frankford Avenue 19136-3013 215-685-8756 Holmesburg and Mayfair
[20] Independence 18 S. 7th Street 19106 215-685-1633 Society Hill, Old City, Queen Village, Washington Square West, and Chinatown
[21] Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library 68 West Chelten Avenue 19144-2795 215-685-2150 Germantown
[22] Katharine Drexel 11099 Knights Road 19154-3516 215-685-9383 Normandy, North and West Torresdale, Morrell Park, Millbrook, Parkwood, Crestmont Farms, Brookhaven, and Walton Park
[23] Kensington 104 West Dauphin Street 19133-3701 215-685-9996 Kensington, West Kensington, and Norris Square
[24] Kingsessing 1201 South 51st Street 19143-4353 215-685-2690 Kingsessing
[25] Lawncrest 6098 Rising Sun Avenue 19111-6009 215-685-0549 Lawndale, Crescentville, Lawncrest, and Cedar Grove
[26] Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped 919 Walnut Street 19107 215-683-3213 -
[27] Lillian Marrero 601 West Lehigh Avenue 19133-2228 215-685-9794 Central North, Fairhill, St. Edwards/Hartranft, and West Kensington
[28] Logan 1333 Wagner Avenue 19141-2916 215-685-9156 Logan
[29] Lovett 6945 Germantown Avenue 19119-2189 215-685-2095 East and West Mt. Airy
[30] Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library 125 South 52nd Street 19139-3408 215-685-7433 Cedar Park, Walnut Hill, West Market, Mill Creek, Dunlap, and West Park
[31] McPherson Square 601 East Indiana Avenue 19134-3042 215-685-9995 Kensington, McPherson Square, and K & A
[32] Nicetown-Tioga 3720 North Broad Street 19140-3608 215-685-9790 Nicetown and Tioga
[33] Northeast Regional Library 2228 Cottman Avenue 19149-1297 215-685-0522 Greater Northeast
[34] Oak Lane 6614 North 12th Street 19126-3299 215-685-2848 Oak Lane
[35] Overbrook Park 7422 Haverford Avenue 19151-2995 215-685-0182 Overbrook Park
[36] Parkway Central 1901 Vine Street 19103 215-686-5322 --
[37] Paschalville 6942 Woodland Avenue 19142-1823 215-685-2662 Paschalville and Elmwood
[38] Philadelphia City Institute 1905 Locust Street 19103-5730 215-685-6621 Rittenhouse Square and Fitler Square
[39] Queen Memorial Library 1201 South 23rd Street 19146-4316 215-685-1899 Landreth
[40] Ramonita de Rodriguez 600 West Girard Avenue 19123-1311 215-686-1768 Olde Kensington, Kensington South, Ludlow, Yorktown, East and West Poplar, Northern Liberties, and Girard/Poplar
[41] Richmond 2987 Almond Street 19134-4955 215-685-9992 Richmond and Port Richmond
[42] The Rosenbach 2008-2010 Delancey Place 19103 215-732-1600 --
[43] Roxborough 6245 Ridge Avenue 19128-2630 215-685-2550 Roxborough, Manayunk and Wissahickon
[44] South Philadelphia 1700 South Broad Street 19145-2392 215-685-1866 South Philadelphia
[45] Tacony 6742 Torresdale Avenue 19135-2416 215-685-8755 Tacony/Wissinoming
[46] Thomas F. Donatucci, Sr. 1935 Shunk Street 19145-4234 215-685-1755 Girard Estate, Packer Park, Passyunk Homes, St. Richards, and West Passyunk
[47] Torresdale 3079 Holme Avenue 19136-1101 215-685-0494 Academy Gardens, Ashton-Woodbridge, Pennypack, Pennypack Woods, Upper Holmesburg, and Winchester Park
[48] Wadsworth 1500 Wadsworth Avenue 19150-1699 215-685-9293 Wadsworth, Cedarbrook, Ivy Hill, and East Mt. Airy
[49] Walnut Street West 201 South 40th Street 19104 215-685-7671 University City and Spruce Hill
[50] Welsh Road 9233 Roosevelt Boulevard 19114-2205 215-685-0498 Aston Wooden Bridge and Bustleton
[51] West Oak Lane 2000 Washington Lane 19138-1344 215-685-2843 West Oak Lane and parts of Cedarbrook, Ivy Hill, and East Mt. Airy
[52] Whitman 200 Snyder Avenue 19148-2620 215-685-1754 Whitman and Pennsport
[53] Widener 2808 West Lehigh Avenue 19132-3296 215-685-9799 North Central, Strawberry Mansion, and Allegheny West
[54] Wynnefield 5325 Overbrook Avenue 19131-1498 215-685-0298 Wynnefield and Overbrook Farms
[55] Wyoming 231 East Wyoming Avenue 19120-4439 215-685-9158 Feltonville/Juniata Park

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "The Nation's Largest Public Libraries: Top 25 Rankings". American Library Association. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  3. ^ "Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation".
  4. ^ "The Central Library and Logan Circle: New Public Spaces". City of Philadelphia.
  5. ^ "About the Library". main website. Free Library of Philadelphia. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  6. ^ "Culinary Literacy Center".
  7. ^ "Author Events" Free Library of Philadelphia
  8. ^ "READ! by 4th".
  9. ^ "Free Library Hot Spots".
  10. ^ The Techmobile
  11. ^ "Fels study shows Free Library's economic impact" (PDF).
  12. ^
  13. ^ Tanis, James (2001). Leaves of gold: manuscript illumination from Philadelphia collections. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-87633-145-3.
  14. ^ "Q&A for merger of The Rosenbach Museum and Library and Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation". The Rosenbach. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  15. ^ "About us: History". Free Library of Philadelphia.

External links[edit]