PHILADELPHIA, July 2, 2007 - At approximately 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27, 2007, Louis Baker--a resident of Philadelphia’s Mayfair neighborhood--passed through the turnstile at the main entrance to the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Central Library, marking the building’s one millionth visit during the 2007 fiscal year.
Mr. Baker and his three children--Alyssa (15), Eric (9), and Christopher (4)--had just stepped into the Central Library’s Main Lobby when they found themselves surrounded by balloons, cameras, and a crowd of excited Library staff. Director of Library Operations Joe McPeak was on hand to welcome the Bakers and to present them with a Free Library tote bag full of gifts, including an assortment of books, an MP3 player for listening to audio downloads from the Free Library’s digital catalog, and a subscription package for the Fall 2007 Free Library of Philadelphia Lectures. When asked why he’d brought his children to the Library that afternoon, Mr. Baker said, “We’re on our way to visit the Art Department, and then downstairs to the Children’s Department so that [Eric and Christopher] can check out some new books to keep them reading during the summer.”
The Central Library has been keeping attendance records since its doors first opened in 1927. The 2007 fiscal year--July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007--marks the first on record since 1938 that the Central Library has exceeded one million annual visits. (There were 1,018,025 visits altogether.) When asked to consider why the Central Library is seeing such an increase now, Dr. McPeak said, “Clearly the Free Library, and the Central Library in particular, has become a destination in and of itself. Users are appreciating the Library as more than just a repository of books, and they’re taking advantage of all of the innovative programming and services being offered.”
Dr. McPeak also cited technological offerings as playing a significant role. “I see the Library as leading the way to bridge the digital divide in Philadelphia,” he said. “We are the largest provider of free internet access in the region, and many who use the Library’s computers would not have access to these technologies otherwise. I am pleased to report that there were more than one million individual computer uses throughout the Free Library system this past year. In a world where so much information is disseminated online, and in a city where more than half of all households are without internet access, it is critically important that we continue to offer increased numbers of internet-connected, public access computers.”
The Free Library of Philadelphia is currently in the midst of a major capital campaign to raise funds for the expansion of the Central Library. Designed by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the planned 180,000 square foot addition to the historic Beaux Arts building will dramatically increase access to the Central Library’s extensive collections, while also providing a multitude of new services. A teen center, extensive public meeting spaces, a soaring atrium with retail establishments, a larger auditorium, and 300 additional public access computers are all among the new and improved services to be offered. For more information on the Central Library Expansion Project, visit libwww.freelibrary.org/expansion.
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The Free Library of Philadelphia system consists of 49 branches, three regional libraries, the Central Library, and the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. With more than six million visits annually, the Free Library is one of the most widely used educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia.