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Free Library of Philadelphia

Free Library of Philadelphia

Incredible collection of rare books, special collections and media...

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Location & Contact:

  • 1901 Vine Street Philadelphia, PA 19103
  • (215) 686-5322
  • Visit Website

The gorgeous Beaux-Arts building along the culture-heavy Benjamin Franklin Parkway serves as the heart of the Free Library of Philadelphia system, which includes more than 50 branches around the city.

In addition to typical library activities — checking out and returning books — visitors to the Parkway Central Library can explore a massive collection that boasts some notable and rare works, such as collections of Edgar Allan Poe, Beatrix Potter and medieval manuscripts.

The Map Collection opens up a world of more than 130,000 current and historical maps.

Also, the library’s Music Department contains one of the largest music and dance materials in the country, featuring more than 100,000 volumes.

Don’t Miss

The Free Library of Philadelphia boast more than 100,000 books and manuscripts in its Rare Book Department.

Free, daily tours lead visitors to the Rare Book Department to view materials such as a printed copy of the first edition of Tamerlane , one of the first poems published by Edgar Allan Poe.

Additionally, a 10 a.m. tour covers the library’s architecture and history.

Events & More

Author readings and lectures, special exhibits and more keep Philadelphians celebrating Ben Franklin’s idea of free public literature all year long.

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The Library Company of Philadelphia

For Scholars

For Scholars button: Black researcher in glasses studies a book with his finger on the text.

For Educators

For Educators button: Black and white teachers standing on front steps of the Library Company building Cassatt House.

Upcoming Events

14 jun 6:00 pm 7:30 pm Generations of Progress: A Juneteenth Celebration Exploring Frederick Douglass’s Legacy Free

Event Details

Celebrate Juneteenth at the Library Company of Philadelphia Generations of Progress: A Juneteenth Celebration Exploring Frederick Douglass’s Legacy Friday, June 14th, 2024 at 6:00 p.m. ET

Celebrate Juneteenth at the Library Company of Philadelphia

Generations of Progress: A Juneteenth Celebration Exploring Frederick Douglass’s Legacy

Friday, June 14th, 2024 at 6 :00 p.m. ET

Hybrid Event | Free

 The truth, lessons, and hope Frederick Douglass offered during his remarkable lifetime not only helped shape Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and the American Civil Rights movement, they can guide and inspire us in our own cultural moment. Born into slavery in 1818, Douglass escaped to New York City at the age of twenty, determined to tell his story and fight for the rights of all men and women to be free. His first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass , an American Slave  (Boston, 1845), remains one of the most influential books of modern times, as captivating and stirring now as it was when it was first published in 1845, with just as many lessons for how to navigate our society. This year’s Juneteenth celebration will feature Kevin Greene, the great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass, discussing his legacy and the new edition of Douglass’s autobiography, featuring an introduction and archival images from Greene and other Douglass descendants. We hope you’ll join us for this journey through the life and impact of one of the most influential figures in U.S. history.

Sponsored by the Program in African-American History

(Friday) 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm (GMT-04:00)

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20 jun 7:00 pm 8:00 pm FIRESIDE CHAT: William James, American Influencer: History, Challenges, Models Free

Fireside Chat with Dr. Paul Croce William James, American Influencer: History, Challenges, Models Thursday, June 20, 2024 7:00 p.m. ET Virtual Event | Free

Fireside Chat with Dr. Paul Croce

William James, American Influencer: History, Challenges, Models

Thursday, June 20, 2024 7:00 p.m. ET Virtual Event | Free

While contributing to the founding of American psychology and philosophy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, William James (1842-1910) applied his insights to controversial public issues. Using lectures, essays, and letters to the editor, he was a social influencer of his day. He spoke out about the unfair treatment of alternative healthcare providers, the “lynching epidemic” oppressing African Americans, and the cruelties of American expansion. Dr. Paul Croce will be discussing how James’s achievements and his challenges present lessons for steering through the fraught differences of our own time.

(Thursday) 7:00 pm - 8:00 pm (GMT-04:00)

18 jul 7:00 pm 8:00 pm FIRESIDE CHAT: Almost Dead: Slavery and Social Rebirth in the Black Urban Atlantic, 1680-1807 Free

Fireside Chat with Dr. Michael L. Dickinson Almost Dead: Slavery and Social Rebirth in the Black Urban Atlantic, 1680-1807 Thursday, July 18, 2024 7:00 PM ET

Fireside Chat with Dr. Michael L. Dickinson

Almost Dead: Slavery and Social Rebirth in the Black Urban Atlantic, 1680-1807

Thursday, July 18, 2024 7:00 PM ET Virtual Event | Free

From the late 17th century to the abolition of the slave trade in the Atlantic,  Almost Dead  (University of Georgia Press, 2022) is an account of the lives, sufferings, and resistances of thousands of enslaved people in the Black urban Atlantic, and how the survival of those captives led to the formation of unique and dynamic communities. Dr. Michael L. Dickinson explores a network of commercially linked cities to reveal commonalities, differences, and connections between urban communities of enslaved Black people across the Atlantic: both in the mainland United States and the Caribbean. As Dr. Dickinson reveals through the adoption of the perspectives of the enslaved, the similarities far outweighed the difference, and cities continued to be key sites for both Black subjugation and resilience. These similarities root themselves in the all-too-similar environments of oppression and a shared transnational need of enslaved Black people to resist social death and maintain their humanity.

Sponsored by the Program in African American History

25 jul 1:00 pm 2:00 pm For the Common Good: Reviewing the Library Company’s First 150 Years

For the Common Good: Reviewing the Library Company’s First 150 Years A Virtual Talk by Dana Dorman, LCP Papers Project Archivist Thursday, July 25, 2024 1:00

For the Common Good: Reviewing the Library Company’s First 150 Years

A Virtual Talk by Dana Dorman, LCP Papers Project Archivist

Thursday, July 25, 2024 1:00 PM ET Virtual Event | Free

As the Library Company nears its 300th anniversary, our staff are taking a deep dive into our past thanks to the Library Company Papers Project, a three-year, NEH-funded project to review, process, and digitize institutional records from the Library Company’s founding in 1731 through 1881. Join Library Company Archivist Dana Dorman for a virtual collection review of our institutional archives. She’ll be sharing a selection of documents from the Library Company’s first 150 years of operations, including minutes, correspondence, shareholder records, financial documents, book orders, and much more.

This project has been made possible through a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy Demands Wisdom. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this resource do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. For additional information on NEH, visit  www.neh.gov .

(Thursday) 1:00 pm - 2:00 pm (GMT-04:00)

More upcoming events here .

Two of Franklin’s Institutions Look to a Future of Greater Collaboration

The American Philosophical Society and the Library Company of Philadelphia, two eminent institutions based in Philadelphia, were founded by Benjamin Franklin to improve society through the advancement of knowledge. Recently, they have begun to explore the possibility of a closer formal relationship while retaining each institution’s distinct identity. They have entered these exploratory conversations guided by their history and shared missions. Their aim is to find ways to increase awareness of their valuable and complementary historic and contemporary collections, to improve access to them, to better support the research process, and to serve the community more fully.

Read more .

The reading rooms are welcoming all readers!

The Reading Rooms will open at 10:30am on Tuesday June 4th.

For text materials (first-floor reading room), walk-ins are welcome and appointments are optional.  Click here  to learn more.

For visual materials (second-floor reading room), appointments are required.  Click here  to learn how to make an appointment.

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Free Library of Philadelphia

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Top ways to experience Free Library of Philadelphia and nearby attractions

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  • 19th St • 9 min walk
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Most Recent: Reviews ordered by most recent publish date in descending order.

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Free Library of Philadelphia - All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (2024)

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Take a Tour Through Philadelphia’s Libraries, Archives, and Special Collections

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Sarah S. Davis

Sarah S. Davis holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's of Library Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sarah has also written for Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Psych Central, and more. Sarah is the founder of Broke By Books blog and runs a tarot reading business, Divination Vibration . Twitter: @missbookgoddess Instagram: @Sarahbookgoddess

View All posts by Sarah S. Davis

philadelphia library tours

A Thousand Steps is a beguiling thriller and a vivid portrait of a turbulent time by New York Times bestselling author T. Jefferson Parker. Laguna Beach, 1968. Matt Anthony is sixteen and his sister Jazz has just gone missing. The cops figure she’s just another runaway hippie chick, but Matt doesn’t believe it. Not after another missing girl turns up dead. In a town where the cops don’t trust the hippies and the hippies don’t trust the cops, uncovering what’s really happened to Jazz is going to force him to grow up fast. If it’s not already too late.

In this tour through Philadelphia’s notable libraries and special collections, we’ll discover some of the most interesting, eclectic, and must-visit destinations that any literature lover will enjoy. While pioneer library aficionado and Philadelphia intellectual Ben Franklin lived in a pre-internet era, today many of these libraries, archives, and special collections have a wealth of digitized exhibits and special collections. Even though the pandemic has closed many such spaces, it’s easier than ever than to learn and explore collections from the comfort of your living room.

American Philosophical Society

The headquarters of the American Philosophical Society, known as Philosophical Hall in Philadelphia PA

Established by Benjamin Franklin in 1743, the American Philosophical Society brands itself as the “oldest learned society in the United States.” The library of the American Philosophical Society holds special collections in early American history; Indigenous cultures, anthropology, and linguistics; and the history of science. Housed within the library, the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research and the David center for the American Revolution both illuminate the American Philosophical Society’s unique holdings.

Archives, Library, and Special Collections of the Barnes Museum

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Barnes Foundation (@barnesfoundation)

The Barnes Museum is one of the most famous museums in Philadelphia and, really, the wider world. The Museum also supports archives, the Honickman Library, and a medley of special collections for scholars and the public alike. You’ll find papers and records related to the establishment of the Museum and the history of 19th and 20th century art movements, psychology, philosophy, and art conservation.

The Center for Art in Wood

View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Center for Art in Wood (@centerforartinwood)

Philadelphia is home to many unique libraries and special collections, but the Center for Art in Wood might take the cake for being the most original. The Fleur & Charles Bresler Research Library marks over 800 books, journals, and manuscripts that cover topics like woodworking, wood turning, and wood art at the center of contemporary artistic movements. The Earl Powell Artist Research Files includes key images and files on global artists.

The German Society of Pennsylvania

The German Society of Pennsylvania

Founded in 1764, the German Society of Pennsylvania is the oldest German American organization in the United States. Among the many exciting findings the Society offers is the Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library, which is located in a restored 1888 reading room. Over 50,000 volumes, the majority of which are written in German, find their home in the Society’s Library. Researchers and history lovers will want to check out the German American Collection, which was established in 1867 and encompasses thousands of documents pertaining to German life in the U.S.

The Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Founded in 1788, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s Historical Medical Library is not connected to a medical school but rather a scholarly organization about the history, study, and treatment of medicine. The Historical Medical Library is one of the foremost libraries that focus on medicine in the world, with hundreds of books printed pre-1501 and over 12,000 rare books, like William Harvey’s  De motu cordis  [On the Motion of the Heart], a groundbreaking 1628 study that pioneered the belief that blood circulates. The Library also contains archives from the study of medicine, including the scholarly side of medicine as well as medical school and training. Additionally, the Library functions as an extension of the Mütter Museum , famous for its medical curiosities.

The Library Company of Philadelphia

West Side of the Library Company of Philadelphia building

In 1731, Ben Franklin established the Library Company of Philadelphia , which notes its history as “America’s first successful lending library and oldest cultural institution.” Today, hundreds of years later, the Library still endures as a crucial collection of 17th through 19th century American history and culture. The Library counts rare books, photographs, and works of art, among other items, as part of its holdings. The African Americana Collection , the Comic Valentine Collection , and the Fashioning Philadelphia: The Style of the City, 1720–1940 , are all part of the Library’s must-see special collections, many of which you can visit on the Library’s website.

The Rare Book Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia

Parkway Central Library location of the Free Philadelphia Library

Located in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Parkway Central Library, the Rare Book Department ‘s items go all the way back to 3000 BCE. Sizable collections of documents related to Charles Dickens , Edgar Allan Po e, and Beatrix Potter are just some of the treasures you’ll find here. The Department also contains extensive illuminated medieval manuscripts , children’s books from early American history, and Pennsylvania German fraktur folk art . Curated exhibits on the New Deal and Manuscripts of the Muslim World are just two of the many exciting exhibits the Library shares with the public both online and in person.

The Rosenbach Museum

The Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia PA

The Rosenbach Museum was founded with rare books and manuscripts from brothers Philip Rosenbach and Dr. A. S. W. Rosenbach. Today the Rosenbach contains a multitude of prized editions of seminal works of literature and literary artifacts, like a first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses , a manuscript of the Canterbury Tales , Bram Stoker’s notes for Dracula , and the papers of author-illustrator Maurice Sendak . The Rosenbach’s special collections include American literature , the Marianne Moore Collection , and the Fine Arts , among others.

South Asia Collection at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries

Van Pelt Library

As far back as the early 1800s, the University of Pennsylvania has collected a bevy of rare books, manuscripts, images, and more items related to South Asian history, culture, social sciences, and humanities. Some of the unique materials curated in the South Asian Collection include cookbooks, comics, and postcards, to name a few. Be sure to check out the Hindi & Bollywood Film Collection and the World, Folk and Ethnic Music Collection .

Book Riot’s coverage of literary Philadelphia continues with these articles:

  • “Literary Tourism: Philadelphia”
  • “Support and Hope in the Philadelphia Book Scene”

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The Rosenbach Museum & Library

Bloomsday Festival 2024

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The Rosenbach offers exhibits, programs, and tours showcasing rare books, manuscripts, and art.

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From The Rosenblog

For immediate release: bloomsday festival 2024.

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(Philadelphia) – The international Bloomsday Festival returns to Center City Philadelphia on Sunday, June 16, celebrating the literary genius of James Joyce and his groundbreaking novel Ulysses. Celebrated around the world since 1954, the Rosenbach has made Philadelphia the North American destination for the event for over 30 years. An all-day affair featuring a public …

Tracing Celtic Heritage Across the Atlantic 

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The Rosenbach Explores the Lasting Legacy of the Irish Diaspora, in Partnership with the Kelly House in Philadelphia and the Princess Grace Irish Library in Monaco  The history of Ireland is closely associated with the history of diaspora—that is, the movement of Irish people all around the world, including to Philadelphia. Irish identity, history, music, …

A letter from Kelsey Scouten Bates, February 2, 2024

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Hello Friends, We hope you’re well and keeping warm this winter season. After two years of deep and energetic conversation within the Rosenbach community, I’m so pleased to unveil our new aspirational vision statement that puts what is already our practice into writing, strengthening our commitment toward a common goal:   Through unprecedented physical, intellectual, and …

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The Rosenbach relies on contributions from our generous community of supporters to fund programs exhibitions, and collections care. Your generosity makes it possible for us to fulfill our mission of inspiring curiosity, inquiry, and creativity. There are a variety of ways to give: become a member, join the Delancey Society, or give an annual gift at any time. Learn about all the ways you can support the Rosenbach here.

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English Literature

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Library Hall (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

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Library Hall

The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731, was housed on the site of Library Hall from 1790 to 1880; the Library Company served as the Library of Congress from 1774 to 1800. In the 1880s, the Library Company moved to 1314 Locust Street, and the original Library Hall was then demolished. In the 1950s, a reproduction of Library Hall was constructed on its original site. Today, Library Hall houses some of the American Philosophical Society’s collections, and the Library Company still functions as a prominent research library on Locust Street.

Take note of the statue of Ben Franklin above Library Hall’s main entrance. Franklin is wearing a toga. That’s because Franklin always said that if he were ever to be represented in a statue, he would want to be shown like the Romans were because the Romans had a republic, which was the kind of government Franklin hoped our new country would have. He’s also holding a king’s scepter pointing downwards to represent his disdain for the monarchy!

Additional Information

Library Hall 105 S. 5th Street Philadelphia, PA 19106 215.440.3400

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Stack of books in library

  • Academy of Masonic Knowledge

Encouraging Masons to seek a greater understanding of Freemasonry.

Washington and Franklin Brotherhood Statue

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Preservation and maintenance of monuments throughout Pennsylvania.

Speaker addressing crowd

Speaker Series

The Masonic Library and Museum Speaker Series covers a variety of topics as they relate to Freemasonry locally and around the world.

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The Masonic Temple, Library and Museum hosts regular events that are open to the public.

Weddings & Corporate Events

ONE, at the majestic Masonic Temple in Philadelphia, is the perfect venue to host your wedding or corporate event.

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Masonic Temple, Library & Museum

Tour the Masonic Temple

On-site tours.

The Masonic Temple in Philadelphia was constructed in 1873. It is considered one of the great “wonders” of the Masonic world. Resplendent with artwork, frescos, stained glass, murals and sculpture, it is a visual treasure just waiting to be discovered by the public. It connects both Masons and non-Masons alike to an inspirational world of art and architecture, history and grandeur. In addition, there is an exhibit hall , featuring a wide assortment of treasures from Philadelphia’s, America’s and Freemasonry’s past.

On-site, guided tours are conducted by knowledgeable staff.

For information on closures and shortened tour times, please visit our hours page .

Plan Your Visit

We are within walking distance of many Philadelphia hotels and attractions such as Reading Terminal Market , Philadelphia City Hall , Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and LOVE Park .

If you are driving into Philadelphia, convenient parking can be found at the Convention Center Parking Facility .

The new 540-car parking garage is adjacent to the recently expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center and just steps from the Masonic Temple, Criminal Justice Center, City Hall, Municipal Services Building, Market Street office buildings, hotels, restaurants and more. It offers convenient entrances on Juniper and Arch Streets and easy access to and from I-676, I-95 and I-76. The garage is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Take a Glimpse Inside

grand staircase

Address: One North Broad St. Philadelphia, PA 19107

Phone: 215-988-1900

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Wednesday – Saturday 10 a.m. – Noon 2 – 4:45 p.m.

Hours subject to change – call the store for details.

Phone: 215-988-1977 Toll Free: 800-336-7317

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Free Library of Philadelphia Author Events will go on as scheduled

The Free Library’s Author Events staff resigned Monday due to what they called ‘heartbreaking’ work culture

The Free Library events staff walked out Monday, leaving the state of the program in chaos.

The Philadelphia Parkway Central Library, pictured in 2023. The author events staff resigned Monday, causing confusion among patrons.

The four-person team behind the Free Library of Philadelphia’s heralded Author Events Program resigned their positions on Monday morning, causing grave concern among library patrons about the future of the esteemed program.

The former staffers said they offered their resignation due to what they described as a “heartbreaking” work culture plagued by increasingly low morale over the past year, but they said their four-week notice was rejected and they were locked out of their emails by the afternoon.

Andy Kahan, a 24-year employee of the Free Library Foundation — the library’s fundraising arm that oversees the Author Events program — said he was escorted in and out of the building Monday by security guards. He suspected that meant he was being let go, but Kahan and two of his other colleagues didn’t receive notice that their positions had been terminated until the evening hours.

In a statement sent to the Friends of the Free Library Tuesday, Jeffry Benoliel, chairman of the board of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation, reiterated no author events would be canceled, blaming the confusion on an “unauthorized post” by one of the team members. The statement said they have not met with the team yet for exit interviews but believed from previous conversations that there was a disagreement regarding strategic direction.

”This involved the Foundation untangling itself from the day-to-day operations of the Free Library of Philadelphia (Library) now that it was fully staffed, bringing on new leadership at the Foundation to better execute on our philanthropic mission and finally, aligning cost structure with current revenue generation in support of the many programs the Foundation funds,” read the statement.

“We were unaware that the [four] events staff were going to resign yesterday, and we are unable to comment on specific personnel matters publicly,” said the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation executive director Monique Moore Pryor in an email to The Inquirer. “Over the past several years, Library and Foundation leadership have been having discussions with all staff about ongoing changes at the Free Library and the Foundation, and leadership was aware that there are concerns among a few staff about aspects of changes in the library and Foundation operations.”

The events team disputes that their resignation caught the library by surprise, reporting having met with human resources multiple times, including as recently as last week. The former staffers said their four-week notice was so leadership could get a head start on finding replacements and so they could finish out what was left of the program’s season amicably.

The fallout of the resignation played out in the public over 24 hours with contradictory emails casting the program’s future in question.

“We would never undermine the program that we’ve loved so much, but we work closely with library colleagues and we would never have intended to do anything that would create turmoil for them either,” said Laura Kovacs, who was on the events team for about 14 years.

First, an email blast arrived in library members’ mailboxes Monday evening announcing “the entire lineup of scheduled Author Events is canceled,” and “the Author Events team is no longer with the Free Library Foundation.”

The Free Library also posted the message on its Author Events Instagram. The message was signed by Kahan; Kovacs; Jason Freeman, who had been with the program for about 11 years; and Nell Mittelstead, who had been with the program for four and a half years. The group said they did not mean to suggest that the program was ending forever, they simply sent the dispatch because they didn’t know how scheduled author events were going to go on without them.

Although the events account has just 2,000 followers, word spread quickly on social media and Philadelphians lamented the loss of the city’s top-tier literary program, which in recent weeks brought A-list celebrities and authors George Stephanopoulos and Tamron Hall to the library.

Adding to the day’s confusion, the Free Library Foundation posted on Instagram that Author Events would continue as planned.

“There are no plans to cancel any scheduled events,” the post read. “We understand that misinformation can lead to confusion and concern among our team, stakeholders, and the public.”

In an email blast later that evening the foundation went on to say the team “submitted their resignations, effective immediately,” which the group said made it seem as though they didn’t care about the program.

Created in March of 1994, the team said the program has raised the profile of the library and raised goodwill among major donors and Philadelphians. More than 50% of their events are free, drawing major authors, including the likes of Tina Fey and Bruce Springsteen .

Sources say library employees have been at odds with Richards and Pryor for some time with internal meetings becoming contentious and staff feeling disrespected.

The events team refrained from speaking about top brass, instead describing a declining workplace culture with high turnover. They described the environment as “death by a thousand cuts” with the team feeling as though their work wasn’t important to the foundation. They had expressed concerns over pay parity where half the team felt they were being underpaid.

“I don’t want more than anybody else, but I certainly don’t want less,” said Freeman.

The team said the foundation was losing experienced and quality workers.

According to The Free Library website, the City of Philadelphia provides public funding for the Library’s operations, the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation raises private support for hundreds of programs and services in libraries across the city.

All four employees described thinking of leaving and then when they realized they weren’t alone, they decided to resign together.

Mostly hosted at the Parkway Central Library near Logan Square, the Events Programs give readers and local library goers the rare opportunity to listen to their favorite authors talk about books in person.

On average, the team hosted 120 to 130 events per year, which brought in about 20,000 people. Still, they say their reach was global with their YouTube and podcast reaching up to 3 million people in a good year.

COMMENTS

  1. Free Library of Philadelphia

    Don't Miss. The Free Library of Philadelphia boast more than 100,000 books and manuscripts in its Rare Book Department.. Free, daily tours lead visitors to the Rare Book Department to view materials such as a printed copy of the first edition of Tamerlane, one of the first poems published by Edgar Allan Poe.. Additionally, a 10 a.m. tour covers the library's architecture and history.

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  23. The Free Library's Author Events staff resigned Monday. Here's what we

    The Free Library events staff walked out Monday, leaving the state of the program in chaos. The Philadelphia Parkway Central Library, pictured in 2023. The author events staff resigned Monday, causing confusion among patrons. Read more Tom Gralish / Staff Photographer. by Ximena Conde and Elizabeth Wellington. Updated June 4, 2024, 7:29 p.m. ET.