This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Kevin McCorry for NewsWorks
In a year that’s seen budget cuts all but eradicate librarians from the Philadelphia School District’s buildings, the District is now leaning even more heavily on the Free Library of Philadelphia to help make up for that shortfall.
The schools and the library have merged their databases and determined that roughly 98,000 of the School District’s 136,000 students do not yet have cards for the city’s public libraries. Based on that data merge, the library and the District will now distribute personalized library cards to every student without one.
On Tuesday, Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite, Mayor Nutter and the leadership staff of the Free Library gathered at James G. Blaine Elementary in Strawberry Mansion to distribute the first batch of cards.
"No matter what your age, no matter what your circumstance, there’s a card that everyone should have," said Nutter as he pulled from his wallet a red and white library card, brandishing it for the cameras to see.
"I’ve been a card-carrying member of the Free Library since I was in single digits," he said. "I want everybody in Philadelphia to have that same experience, that same opportunity, and I would suggest that other than a U.S. passport, there’s nothing else that you can carry on you that can take you farther than a library card."
In 2008, under Nutter’s leadership, the city cut $8 million of the library’s $41 million budget, leading to the elimination of 117 staff positions and reducing branch hours.
Nutter’s new budget calls for a $2.5 million increase in library funding to allow longer hours at more branches. When announcing the measure in March, Nutter characterized the library cuts of 2008 as "the absolute worst decision I have made in the time I’ve been in public office."
If approved by City Council, the funding increase would keep all neighborhood libraries open six days a week. Since the 2008 budget cuts, most of the branch libraries have been open only five days.