The Free Library of the 21st Century

Posted: May 18, 2012

A RECENT OPINION piece called into question the Free Library’s place in our digital world. A quick stop on — our “online branch,” which receives 8 million unique visits annually — immediately highlights just how relevant and digitally savvy the Free Library is. There, users will quickly and easily find access to:

More than 30,000 e-books for checkout.

Streaming and downloadable popular music.

Hundreds of podcasts from our renowned Author Events series, which are downloaded at a rate of 26,000 per month.

Digital databases that help our customers do everything from trace their family trees to learn a new language online.

Digital exhibitions and thousands of images from our special collections.

In addition, free Wi-Fi is available in every one of our 54 locations (we are working on getting more laptop plug-ins) as well as 1,000 public-access computers. Each branch also provides computer-training programs covering topics that range from using social networking to market your small business to applying for a job online. (In fact, our Workplace Wednesdays job-training workshops teach customers about all aspects of finding and thriving in a job in today’s digital world!)

The Free Library’s commitment to bridging the digital divide doesn’t end with support at our 54 branches. One can also stop into any one of our six technology Hot Spot computer centers in underserved areas of the city, where we have the latest computer and broadband equipment and trainers to show you how to use it. Or, hop onboard our new Techmobile, our roving computer lab on wheels, for the latest in internet access and training.

The Free Library of Philadelphia not only offers unique and critical services to our 21st-century customers, it also has astounding value in our modern world. A recent and groundbreaking economic impact study conducted by the Fels Institute of Government found that in one year, the Free Library generated some $30 million in tax revenue for the city, all while helping 25,000 people learn to read or teach someone to read; helping nearly 1,000 Philadelphians find new jobs; and helping nearly 9,000 entrepreneurs start, improve, or grow their small businesses.

How cool. And how 21st century.

Sandra Horrocks is vice president, external affairs, for the Free Library of Philadelphia.

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