Transformative Organizations: The Case of Philadelphia

Posted by Siobhan A. Reardon on January 10, 2016 at 9:31 AM

Philadelphia is a fascinating city. There is the promise of affordable housing and a location that cannot be beat; halfway between New York City and Washington, D.C. The population is growing thanks to immigrants who are making Philadelphia their home and college grads who are now staying in Philadelphia because of an emerging technology/digital/entrepreneurial business sector. Yet, Philadelphia is a poor city; the poorest of the largest cities in the U.S. Nearly 500,000 adults over the age of 18 are considered illiterate and only 39 percent of our children are reading on grade level by the time they reach 4th grade.

This tale of two cities, which is played out in many old, large, urban cities in the U.S., is creating a carpe diem moment for libraries like no other time in history. Libraries have become digital learning centers since many homes are still without Internet access.  Libraries are recognized as part of the educational continuum due to our extensive out-of-school-time efforts whether it is homework help, Pre-K and early literacy initiatives, or college prep programs. With the evolution of maker-spaces our teens have found that libraries can stoke the curiosity of even the most cynical of young minds. This evolution is happening because libraries have evolved, necessarily, from transactional organizations (book lenders) to transformative organizations focused on the individual that has chosen to be in our spaces (whether physical or virtual), and their experiences while there.  

Relevance to our communities is exacted when we actively participate, hyper-locally, with our constituents developing and encouraging partnerships and collaborations among the many community partners (schools, faith-based organizations, businesses, policy-makers, etc.). These connections are essential drivers to creating programming and developing collections that speak directly to local interests, issues, and concerns, further defining the library as a connected community organization.


Siobhan A. Reardon

President and Director

Free Library of Philadelphia