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This original ironwork greets customers at Parkway Central Library, which opened in 1927. The Beaux-Arts building underwent an extensive exterior renovation in the summer of 2011.

OFF the SHELF Free Library of Philadelphia President and Director

Siobhan A. Reardon


Associate Director


Dr. Joseph McPeak Vice President of Development

Melissa Greenberg Vice President of External Affairs

Sandra Horrocks Director of Communications and Brand Marketing

Alix Gerz Writer/Editor

Michelle Saraceni Sheffer PRODUCTION ASSISTANT

Eileen Owens

Robert C. Heim Members

Donna Allie Steven M. Altschuler Christopher Arlene Jacqueline Barnett Darwin Beauvais Peter A. Benoliel Patricia A. Coulter Pamela Dembe Tobey Gordon Dichter W. Wilson Goode, Sr. Melissa Grimm Nancy D. Kolb Noel Mayo Stephanie W. Naidoff Sonia Sanchez John J. Soroko

Sherry A. Swirsky Nicholas D. Torres Ignatius C. Wang Shelly Yanoff Emeritus

Gloria Twine Chisum Herman Mattleman Armand Della Porta Teresa Sarmina Ex-Officio

Michael DiBerardinis Deputy Mayor for the Environment and Community Resources

Irv Ackelsberg Friends of the Free Library

Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

1901 Vine Street, Suite 111 Philadelphia, PA 19103 215-567-7710




Cynthia Affleck Renee Amoore James H. Averill Phyllis W. Beck Peter A. Benoliel Sheldon Bonovitz George Day Andrea Ehrlich Marie Field Daniel K. Fitzpatrick Elizabeth Gemmill W. Wilson Goode, Sr. Daniel Gordon Richard A. Greenawalt Andrew T. Greenberg Elizabeth Grenald Robert C. Heim John Imbesi


Off the Shelf is published twice annually for supporters of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation and showcases the Library’s educational, economic, and cultural contributions to the region.


Tobey Gordon Dichter

Linda E. Johnson Geoffrey Kent Alexander Kerr Marciene S. Mattleman Leslie Miller Stephanie W. Naidoff Patrick M. Oates Derek N. Pew William R. Sasso Susan G. Smith Miriam Spector Stacey Leigh Spector Barbara Sutherland Jay Weinstein Larry Weiss William L. Wilson HONORARY

A. Morris Williams, Jr.

In memoriam The Free Library is saddened to report the passing of GERALD CLOTHIER, a longtime member of its Board of Trustees. Mr. Clothier was an ardent supported of and passionate advocate for the Free Library, and he is sorely missed.

From the President and Director

Welcome to our second issue of Off the Shelf, the magazine detailing all things Free Library. Our inaugural issue generated terrific feedback, and I’m delighted that you enjoyed learning about the incredible work that goes on here every day. In this issue, we’re excited to bring you stories that showcase the many ways in which the Free Library works beyond its historic walls. Our feature story focuses on the digital technology that transcends the Library’s brick and mortar boundaries—from ebooks that can be downloaded right from your own home (or anywhere around the world) to our Hot Spot computer labs that bring broadband access to underserved neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia. “Focus On” highlights the Free Library’s ambitious “Building Inspiration” plan, which will renovate the nearly 100-year-old walls of Parkway Central Library by blending its restored Beaux-Arts grandeur with services and amenities for the 21st-century customer. Turn the page to read about the newest restoration work, which transformed Philbrick Hall this spring. Finally, “In the Neighborhoods” profiles the Library “out of doors” in a unique way—with a focus on our system’s many beautiful reading gardens. I hope that you enjoy this issue and continue to send your feedback our way. We love hearing from you. Warmly,


WHAT’S INSIDE 6 Beyond the Walls: The Free Library’s Digital Revolution

How the Library is helping customers connect to the 21st century

4 News & Notes 5 Focus On: A RESTORED PHILBRICK HALL 9 From the Neighborhoods: READING RETREATS 10 The Final Word: ANN BEATTIE


Siobhan Reardon with materials donated by Gale Cengage in her honor


Congratulations to Free Library President and Director Siobhan A. Reardon, who was named a 2011 Woman of Distinction by the Philadelphia Business Journal this winter. In recognition of her accomplishment, Gale Cengage Learning—an educational publisher—donated the six-volume Critical Companion set titled Feminism in Literature as well as the Encyclopedia of Irish History and Culture to the Free Library.


CHAIRMAN’S CIRCLE ESTABLISHED The Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation is proud to announce the creation of the Chairman’s Circle, a group of the Library’s most generous benefactors who have each contributed $1 million or more to the Library in their lifetime. This past fall, members of the Chairman’s Circle gathered for an inaugural dinner celebration, a tradition that will continue for years to come.

A BUSY SEASON AT THE FREE LIBRARY (1) This winter, the Free Library received a valentine from Bank of America Philadelphia Market President Thomas Woodward who presented a check for $25,000 to Siobhan Reardon for the Free Library’s materials fund. The fund was established to supplement the budget for books, databases, and DVDs—among other materials—that has been slashed some 40% in recent years. (2) On March 15, author Edwidge Danticat joined One Book chair Marie Field at a gala in honor of the 10th annual One Book, One Philadelphia program. (3) And on April 12, the Free Library unveiled the Techmobile, its mobile Hot Spot computer lab on wheels, made possible by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

Board of Directors Chair Tobey GORDON Dichter


Teen-Focused Grant to Design Digital Learning Lab Awarded

This winter, members of the Foundation Board of Directors unanimously elected Tobey Gordon Dichter to serve as their next Chair.

The Free Library was recently awarded a $99,888 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to plan for the creation of a digital learning lab for middle and high school students.

Ms. Dichter is a long-time supporter and advocate, having previously served on the Board for nine years before taking a two-year leave while living abroad. Her return to the Board in the position of Chair marks the end of a four-year tenure by William R. Sasso, who led the Board through challenging budget times, a leadership transition, and a re-envisioning of the Parkway Central capital project.

The learning lab will be designed to improve digital literacy and to engage young people in hands-on learning that fosters media skills and problem-solving skills, encourages teamwork, and builds confidence. The Free Library was one of just 12 organizations in the United States to receive this prestigious grant.

Ms. Dichter previously served as Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for what is now GlaxoSmithKline. In 1999, she founded Generations on Line to help marginalized seniors gain the access and skills they need to use the emerging world of internet technology. Generations on Line is now in 49 states and Canada and has trained more than 65,000 seniors. Ms. Dichter’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Journal of the American Medical Association, Newsweek, Time Magazine, and on CNN and National Public Radio.



SIOBHAN A. REARDON Lauded for Her Leadership




Where Beaux-Arts Grandeur meets 21st-Century Innovation:

Reopening Parkway Central’s Philbrick Hall

Parkway Central’s newly restored Philbrick Hall Robert C. Heim, Chair, Free Library Board of Trustees; Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director; Mike DiBerardinis, DeputY Mayor for the Environment and Community Resources; Tobey GORDON Dichter, Chair, Free Library Foundation Board of Directors; and the Hon. Dwight Evans, Pennsylvania House of Representatives at the ribbon cutting.

Parkway Central’s Periodical Room— now Philbrick Hall—in 1927

photo credit: Kelly and Massa Photography

On March 1, dignitaries, staff, and members of the boards of Directors and Trustees all celebrated the grand reopening of Parkway Central’s popular space—Philbrick Hall— restored to the stunning sophistication of the 1920s and fitted with technologies and amenities for the Free Library’s digitally savvy, 21st-century customers.

grandeur. The intricate plaster ceiling has been restored and brand new seating, shelving, window treatments, and energyefficient lighting—all inspired by the building’s original fixtures and designed by Moshe Safdie and Associates—have been installed.

“I am incredibly proud of the work we accomplished in restoring this grand space, and even prouder to be re-opening Philbrick Hall for our hundreds of thousands of cardholders and for visitors who come to the Library from all over the world,” said Free Library of Philadelphia President and Director Siobhan A. Reardon. It was nearly 85 years ago that the Parkway Central Library— designed by prominent African American architect Julian Abele, part of Horace Trumbauer’s famed Philadelphia firm—opened to the public on what was then the Fairmount Parkway. And when Head Librarian John Ashurst unlocked the front doors to the Beaux-Arts gem, thousands of excited Philadelphians rushed into the building to view the new community treasure.

At the same time, this space—where some three-fifths of visitors to Parkway Central head upon entering the Library—now contains self-checkout stations, plasma video screens that display upcoming Library programs, and plenty of room to sit with your laptop and enjoy free Wi-Fi. It also includes a wonderful new Teen Center, where young Library lovers can hang out, check out the latest YA offerings, and connect with the world around them. Celebrating the past while at the same time looking eagerly forward, Parkway Central’s restored Philbrick Hall aptly exemplifies the delicate balance of history and modernity in the 21st-century library, ensuring that the Free Library remains a cornerstone of the Philadelphia community for the next century— and beyond. • • • BY ALIX GERZ

Those Philadelphians in 1927 would have encountered the Periodical Room immediately to the right of the entry, where today Philbrick Hall holds recent fiction and non-fiction, DVDs, and more. The enhanced space—rejuvenated as part of the “Building Inspiration” project with the help of a generous gift from the Annenberg Foundation—pays homage to its original

With work beginning this June, the next phase of “Building Inspiration” includes the renovation of the fourth floor and portions of the Rare Book Department; an overhaul of the Library’s antiquated stacks system; and the construction of a grand new Common. Stay tuned for more information in the next issue!


• • • BY Michelle Saraceni Sheffer

Beyond the Walls The Free Library’s Digital Revolution

The Parkway Central Library’s Homepage Café buzzes with customers tapping into the Library’s free Wi-Fi as they sip coffee and chat with friends. Students gather in a Verizon Smart Technology Center in a neighborhood library to work on a school project using Smart Board equipment. Seniors stop by a free e-reader training session and then check out a Nook to read ebooks at home. The Library’s youngest users gather around a surface table or log on to an Early Learning Station to enjoy educational games. And in shared community spaces throughout the city, Philadelphians are dropping into a Free Library Hot Spot to use the internet, apply for jobs, and get one-on-one computer help.


It’s not your grandmother’s library anymore. Of course, the Free Library of Philadelphia is still home to millions of books and hosts thousands of interactive programs for children and adults. Its 54 branches all offer free Wi-Fi, and the Free Library system remains the largest provider of free internet access in the city. But the Library is also rapidly expanding its digital offerings, allowing customers to access many of its popular resources from beyond the Library’s walls. In aligning its services to the needs of an increasingly digital 21st-century world, the Free Library is able to reach more people than ever before. “As more and more of our customers are getting the bulk of their information and entertainment online, the Free Library is committed to making as many of our world-class resources as possible available at,” says Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library. “Whether they’re looking to download the latest bestseller to their Kindles or conduct market research for their small businesses, Free Library of Philadelphia cardholders have access to a vast and growing world of knowledge right at their fingertips.” Increasingly, the Free Library’s customers are visiting online, making the system’s busiest “branch.” Last year, the website alone hosted more than 6 million virtual visits, in contrast to the 6 million in-person visits throughout the entire Free Library system. To meet the increasing demand for online resources, the Free Library is continually adding new features and developing easier ways to access information. Visitors to can listen to podcasts of recent author events—and are doing so at a rate of nearly 800 downloads a day— as well as download free Sony music to their personal collections using Freegal. They can learn a new language with Mango Languages, peruse the latest online exhibition commemorating

the Civil War’s sesquicentenary, or browse the Library’s robust Digital Collections, featuring more than 20,000 images. Students can take advantage of Homework Help Online or text a librarian with a truly burning question. And as e-readers like Kindles and Nooks are being adopted by voracious and casual readers alike, the Library is everexpanding its popular collection of digital materials, which includes more than 32,000 downloadable ebooks.




As the demand for ebooks and other digital materials continues to grow, so does the demand for help in learning how to use these resources. In addition to general computer training sessions for all ages, the Library offers a groundbreaking e-reader lending program aimed at adults ages 50 and older. Supported with funds from the federal Library Services and Technology Act administered by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries and supplemented with additional funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Free Library’s e-reader lending program trains participants to use a variety of e-reader devices, and then allows them to check out a Nook e-reader to enjoy ebooks at home. “It’s hard enough to be elderly, perhaps confronting fixed income or decreased mobility, but then to be also marginalized from a wired society is wrong,” says Tobey Gordon Dichter, Chair of the Free Library Foundation Board of Directors and Founder and CEO of Generations on Line. “More than half of those over age 65 are unable to use the internet. We must do all we can to retain the wisdom, participation, and support our older generations can contribute—I am very proud that the Free Library is working toward this effort.” (cont.)


32,000 EBOOKS (and growing!)

6 MILLION VIRTUAL VISITS at A customer takes advantage of the Library’s free Wi-Fi to complete his work.

The Free Library’s littlest fans enjoy educational games at an Early Learning Station.


consistent access to the internet. With many job applications and important government forms now found exclusively online, these residents risk being excluded from numerous opportunities in the 21st-century world.




“The most critical part is definitely the computer assistants,” explains Aye. “They act as cheerleaders for the people who use the Hot Spots, encouraging them to keep coming and pushing them to achieve their goals.” The computer assistants’ expert help (and cheerleading efforts) have paid off: To date, some 60 people have secured jobs thanks to the resources they found and support they received at a Free Library Hot Spot.

Ensuring that the Library’s customers of all ages get the most out of their digital experience is the Free Library’s Web Development Team. “A day doing web development at the Library can include everything from laying out graphics and working on very technical things like the software that runs our catalog, to meeting with other Library staff to help them understand how to use content management tools or translating their business needs into webbased software and displays,” according to Laura Moore, Library Information Systems Director.

“Our Hot Spots in many ways represent the future of library service,” says Reardon. “We are constantly working on new and innovative methods of bringing the resources and services of the Free Library to as many people as possible—in as many ways as possible. The Hot Spots are a shining example of how the Library can collaborate with community organizations to help Philadelphians get the information and assistance they need to achieve their goals, right in their own neighborhoods.” As the Free Library continues to grow its website, refine its digital services, and develop new programs and opportunities for customers of all technical abilities, it remains committed to advancing literacy, guiding learning, and inspiring curiosity for all who come through its doors—be they physical or virtual. • • •

In the past year alone, the Web Team enhanced the Library’s popular staff book reviews, adding an RSS feed as well as a dedicated tab on the website. The Team also launched version 2.0 of the Free Library’s mobile web pages, expanding them from a catalog-centered set of functions to a more comprehensive representation of the content on the Free Library’s main website. With updated mobile pages, Library customers can now carry the best of with them in their pocket or purse wherever they go. At the same time, as committed to meeting the demands of its techsavvy customers as it is to helping tech novices learn the ropes, the Free Library is also dedicated to increasing access to technology for the more than 41% of Philadelphians who do not have a computer or the internet at home. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, the Free Library’s innovative Hot Spots are bringing computers, internet access, and one-on-one assistance to neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia—all for free. Hot Spots are located in six community spaces in all corners of the city, and the Techmobile, a Hot Spot on wheels, hit the road this spring. “The Hot Spots are constantly full, which speaks to the hunger in these communities for technology opportunities,” says Khaleef Aye, the Library’s Hot Spot Community Outreach Specialist. As 3G and 4G cellular networks do not reach into all of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and paying for broadband service can be prohibitively expensive, many residents lack reliable and

13,000 FANS &

Surface tables offer Library customers an innovative way to learn and interact.






from the


Reading Retreats: Gardens of the Free Library The Free Library offers a multitude of valuable digital resources, all accessible 24 hours a day from your smart phone on a crowded bus, your iPad during class, or your laptop at work. But our new-found ability to stay connected everywhere and multi-task at all times of the day can be overwhelming. Fortunately, the Free Library of the 21st Century also provides a special space to disconnect and reflect.

Many neighborhood libraries across the 54-branch system boast green spaces, or reading gardens, for patrons who need a little distraction from the hustle and bustle. Thanks to dedicated Friends groups of the neighborhood libraries, staff members, and committed customers, the reading gardens are a refuge— sometimes the lone park or common green area within the entire neighborhood. Some gardens, like the one at Chestnut Hill Library, act as a buffer between the parking lot and the building itself, providing customers with a spot to take a few minutes to sit and read once they’ve checked out their material and before they resume their daily activities. Sheltered from the flurry of the outside world, customers can quietly reflect on the novel they’re reading, the homework they’re completing, or the next task they must accomplish. As the gardens afford customers an escape from the city, many children’s librarians host outdoor storytimes during warmer months. And with the elements of nature all around, these storytimes can sometimes be a little unpredictable.

“I recall a storytime when a cute squirrel was making a ruckus in the branches of the big tree surrounding us, and the kids became really excited,” Carole Barta Weidner, Branch Manager and Children’s Librarian at Holmesburg Library, remembers. “I’m sure they had all seen squirrels before, but we happened to be reading a book where the characters were talking animals. Some of the children were hoping he’d run down and join us in singing our songs!” The Library’s reading gardens also tend to become a space in which the surrounding community gathers. Kingsessing and Ogontz libraries each have seasonal vegetable gardens, and movie screenings and outdoor book discussions are held during the summer months at Wyoming and Lovett Memorial libraries. Neighbors take pride in the space and often help with the pruning and upkeep of the plants. David Payne, Branch Head at Tacony Library, believes that the garden has become a part of the community itself: “Tacony Branch has a community garden in every sense of the word. Each year, adult volunteers and local school children plant in our garden, and with its three benches, the space serves to enhance not only the branch, but also this part of Torresdale Avenue.” Green areas provide a serene space to contemplate and digest the wonderful resources available at the Library. What’s more, all of the Library’s gardens offer free Wi-Fi access. Whether you’re sitting under a tree reading a book (or an ebook!) in the sunshine, or using your wireless device to access one of our small business databases, the gardens provide the ability to merge our tech-focused, constantly connected lives with the natural, outdoor environment. And while the Free Library strives to offer the best in digital resources to our customers, we’re also proud to provide a little oasis away from it all. • • • BY EILEEN OWENS


got so many MFA programs that encourage short stories, which could be a good or a bad thing, but whatever it is, the writing of millions of short stories is here to stay). Charles Baxter has written of the short story genre, “Obvious point: Short stories end before novels do and therefore have a more critical relation to the immediacy of closure and what might constitute it. Arguable point: Characters in short stories, unlike the characters in novels, do not, as a rule, make long-term plans. They tend, instead, to be creatures of impulse.” (This is from an essay called “Against Epiphanies.”) I agree, and I love that impulsivity, both of character and of the trajectory of the fiction itself.

After publishing several stories in The New Yorker, Ann Beattie burst onto the literary scene in 1976 with Chilly Scenes of Winter and promptly became the unofficial diarist of a generation. With spare, whip-smart prose, Beattie portrayed the sorts of relationships— the results of divorce, sexual liberation, or youthful aimlessness—that were the norm for those who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, and her wry voice and tart characterization remain instantly recognizable. She visited the Free Library in March to discuss her latest book, Mrs. Nixon, and found a moment to chat with us.

OTS Your new book, Mrs. Nixon, explores the life of the elusive former first lady. What drew you to her as a subject matter? AB She was not a likely pairing, and I needed a foil. OTS Mrs. Nixon also explores the art of writing fiction. And as the Edgar Allan Poe Professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Virginia, you teach many creative writing courses. While the mechanics of writing can certainly be taught, can the art of it be taught, too?

OTS What role have libraries played in your life?

AB You can’t teach anything meaningful unless the writer has

AB They’ve allowed me to discover books I didn’t know existed;

talent, period. You can make writers familiar with some of the ways other writers write, and in reading those writers carefully, you can teach them some moves; you can have them read aloud and talk to them about tone, and where and how it matters in a story; you can point out that what they’re attempting has already been done (and published). You can line edit, but that only works for those who get the idea. You can always be wrong, not because you are wrong, but because nobody can outguess the marketplace, and we are all—old timers and beginners—more under its influence than we like to admit. You can try to get them to make writing a priority, to actually do it, and do it, and do it some more. And at some point, you want to remember to tell them outright that there’s also more to life than writing.

they’ve always impressed me with their trained librarians who can save you a lot of time and encourage you, too; they provide a serious environment without TV, so you can think. Our local library in York, Maine hangs art shows during the summer. OTS What role do you believe libraries play in the future of the United States? AB They’ll still be used for research; their computers will be much

loved; the library book sales will put a lot of books into the right hands. OTS In addition to being an acclaimed novelist, you have been recognized as a master of the short story, winning the prestigious PEN/Bernard Malamud Award and the Rea Award for the Short Story. What draws you to the form? What does a short story offer to the reader that a novel does not? AB Some of the best short stories, such as Edith Wharton’s

“The Old Maid” or Peter Taylor’s “The Old Forest,” seem interchangeable with a novel. I don’t think it is still true that the majority of readers prefer novels (if it ever was true; now, we’ve

OTS To you, the Free Library of Philadelphia is also the Free Library of ____. Why? AB For me, the Free Library of Philadelphia is also the Free Library

of Last Stands: It’ll be that for me, when I read Mrs. Nixon. To listen to ANN BEATTIE’S Author Events podcast—AMONG OTHERS—visit

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Leave a Legacy. E n s u r e t h e f u t u r e o f t h e f r e e l i b r a r y.

When you make a planned gift —an estate or life income gift—of any size to the Free Library of Philadelphia, you help ensure the Library’s services will be available for future

generations. For more information or to find out how to make the planned gift that’s right for you, please contact Amanda Goldstein at 215-567-7710 or


MAY 15 • 7:30 PM

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Buzz Bissinger

Terry Tempest Williams

Toni Morrison

Paul Krugman End This Depression Now!

Father’s Day: A Journey into the Mind and Heart of My Extraordinary Son

When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice


MAY 22 • 7:30 PM

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Steve Coll

General Colin Powell

Ed Rendell

Sara LawrenceLightfoot

Amanda Bennett

FOR MORE Info: 215-567-4341 authorevents

It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership

A Nation of Wusses: How American Leaders Lost the Guts to Make Us Great

JUNE 21 • 7:30 PM

JUNE 26 • 7:30 PM



Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power

Chris Hedges Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

E.J. Dionne, Jr. Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent

Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free

The Cost of Hope

JULY 12 • 7:30 PM

JULY 17 • 7:30 PM

JULY 24 • 7:30 PM




Chris Cleave

Stephen Carter


The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln

Rajiv Chandrasekaran

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LIttle America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan

The Free Library is one of the most important educational and cultural institutions in Philadelphia. The City of Philadelphia provides funds for the operations of the Free Library system, including staffing at our 54 locations. Through the generosity of individual gifts, the Free Library Foundation supports many of the Library’s incredible programs and services, which advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity throughout our city.


YEAR OF DICKENS 2012 WITH THE FREE LIBRARY! Throughout 2012 the Free Library is celebrating its worldclass Charles Dickens Collection and the 200th birthday of “The Inimitable” with a series of festive events, including author lectures, literary salons, special performances, and more! Our spring/summer lineup includes: Literary Salons: May 17

David Copperfield

June 21

Great Expectations

July 19

A Tale of Two Cities



Boz Bicentenary Speaker Series: May 9

Author Wesley Stace

presents on David Copperfield JULY 10


presents on A TALE OF TWO CITIES

To make a gift to the Foundation, please visit or call 215-567-7710.

Exhibitions: Opening June 4 in the Rare Book Department, “Dickens and the TheatRE” showcases playbills, scripts, and other unique items that highlight Dickens’s flair for the dramatic!

For a full schedule of events, times, and locations, visit

Off The Shelf Spring 2012  

A publication of the Free Library of Philadelphia. Inside: Beyond the Walls - The Free Library's Digital Revolution. Also, Philbrick Hall's...

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