A nonprofit organization working to reopen public school libraries is seeing volunteers and support for their mission.
The West Philadelphia Alliance for Children has revived 17 libraries in public schools after a budget crunch hit the school district during the 2009-10 school year. David Bowen is the executive director, and he met with guests who attended a recent Open House to explain his vision at the nonprofit’s administration offices, located in the Philadelphia Business Technology Center on Parkside Avenue.
The effort to revive the public school libraries was a spinoff from a collaborative effort between the nonprofit’s reading literacy initiative OPen Books Open Mind and Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church.
“We are looking at some criteria that we know would make sure we have sustainable and successful library models,” he said during the Open House. “We can’t afford to have the program interrupted for kids.”
Schools must be screened for entry into the program with prospective candidates demonstrating solid leadership, strong community support from volunteers who can commit to work during one to two days of operation, Brown said. Buildings also must be in good physical condition.
Brown’s tentative timeline calls for opening the 18th school library, overall, early next year. The organization, which has a volunteer staff of 125 people, who have passed criminal background checks, currently operates 12 school libraries in West Philadelphia, Southwest Philadelphia and East Falls.
In recent years, some libraries have been shuttered, casualties of mass school closings across the city. The idea is to teach children how to use the library and make visits part of their regular routine, organizers said. Funding cuts for the school district often means cutbacks or elimination of library services.
“Whatever affects the school district affects us,” Brown said. “It makes it much more difficult to do what we need to do.”