For almost thirty years, residents of the eastern part of Center City had been asking for a branch. In 1997, the East Philadelphia Coalition for a Free Library Branch was formed. The coalition's carefully planned and well-presented case enabled the library to successfully persuade City Council to fund a new branch library serving residents in Society Hill, Old City, Chinatown, Washington Square West, and Queen Village.
Space for the new branch was found in what was then the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies. Architect Ignatius Wang led the renovation of the former exhibit space into a library. Meanwhile, representatives from the communities served on a fundraising committee to raise money to build the library collection. The names of the major donors are currently listed on a Chinese moon gate at the library.
Independence Branch opened on February, 28, 2001. The library serves as a community center for Chinatown and the other nearby neighborhoods. The name "Independence" recognizes the proximity to Independence National Historic Park.
The children's area features a mural of changing seasons by Jing-Xiang Liang, and also a multicolored carpet, which is a tribute to the architect's favorite children's book, Elmer the Multicultural Elephant.
Facts about the neighborhoods served by Independence Branch:
- Society Hill is the southern portion of the original settlement by the Free Society of Traders in 1681.
- Old City was the city's first commercial district. The area includes Elfreth's Alley, the oldest continuous residential street in America.
- Chinatown's first residents arrived in the mid-1840's, and the first business was established in 1850. Today's Chinatown is the cultural and commercial hub for Asian-Americans in Philadelphia.
- Washington Square is one of the original squares laid out by William Penn. The Unknown Soldier from the Revolutionary War is buried there.
- Originally named Southwark, Queen Village was the city's first neighborhood, taking its name from an area of London, and replacing the Swedes' community of Wicaco. The name "Queen Village" dates from the late 1960's.