City librarians welcome more funding

The Independence Branch of the Free Library system provides computer access to the community.
The Independence Branch of the Free Library system provides computer access to the community. (JULIE XIE / Staff)
Posted: March 09, 2014

Liz Heideman knew she wanted to be a children's librarian from second grade, when a librarian handed her books to read every time she walked into the library.

"I thought she was magical," said the 36-year-old Heideman, a children's librarian at the Free Library's City Institute branch in Center City.

She considers working with children in a library her "dream job," even with the budget cuts of the last five years.

"To be able to reliably say when we'll be open and offer a great level of service would be fantastic," Heideman said.

Mayor Nutter's proposal to boost the Free Library's budget by $2.5 million, however, could make Heideman's job better than it has been in a while.

In the economic downturn of 2008, Nutter cut $8 million of the Free Library's $41 million budget, forcing the system to eliminate 117 staff positions and many of the 54 branches to be open five days a week instead of six.

The additional $2.5 million, which Nutter announced during his budget address Thursday, would let the system hire 43 people and allow all branches to be open six days a week. Nutter called his 2008 decision of library funding "the absolute worst decision I have made in the time I have been in public office."

"It's been a serious stress on staff and communities. We've had so few staff that at times we had to close unexpectedly, which upset people," Heideman said of the cut in funding.

The branches have had to reduce community outreach, homework help, ESL and GED classes and other programs, she said.

To alleviate the shorter hours, nearby library branches began partnering with each other, Heideman said.

The City Institute, at 19th and Locust Streets, is open Monday through Thursday and on Saturday, while its partner, the Independence Branch at 18 S. Seventh St., is open Monday through Friday. Staff from both branches trade working Fridays and Saturdays.

Access to computers and the Internet is one of the most popular and essential services offered, Heideman said. Students can use the computers to do homework and adults to apply for jobs.

Library patron Cynthia Giles, 47, agreed.

"A lot of parents aren't into modern technology and don't know that's what it takes for kids to survive in school," she said.

Matthew Brown, 19, who used to go to the Independence Branch every day after school as a child and now works part time there, was happy at the prospect of more funding, if approved by City Council.

"I like how the library gives back to the community. It has kept me out of trouble," he said.

215-854-2771 @julieyinxie

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