Mon. Jun 27th, 2022

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — As Angela Lomax sat in Shakespeare Park in Center City, she enjoyed a great performance that consisted of professionals playing music and her nephew, Ivan, dancing nonstop.

“He’s super active, as you can see,” she said while watching the toddler jump and spin.

Ivan’s impromptu dance break was courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia as it hosted “Make Music Philly” in the park across the street from its library branch on the Ben Franklin Parkway.

“This is amazing and it’s free,” said Lomax.

It’s the type of respite the library aims to provide, especially with kids out of school for the summer.

“We have music programs, dance programs… anything you can possibly think about, we have it,” said Valerie Taylor-Samuel, the assistant chief of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Youth Services and Programs Division.

The division aims to give children the programs they’ll be interested in, but it also provides something else: a safe space away from the violence on Philadelphia’s streets.

“(There’s) not too many safe places around. So to be able to bring him to a safe place and I know he can be free is super important,” said Lomax.

“(The library is) a safe place from whatever’s going on in someone’s life,” said Taylor-Samuel. “Just come to the library.”

Providing that safe space is more of a challenge this year because of short staffing at some branches. It’s one reason advocates have called for more funding.

“We need funds from the city council and the city to be able to fund our libraries,” said Erme Maula after participating in a rally for Friends of the Free Library earlier this spring.

“Libraries have no weekend hours, no evening hours, cuts to personal services,” said Elizabeth Gardiner who also is with Friends of the Free Library and participated in the same rally calling for more funding.

The Free Library of Philadelphia sent a statement to Action News saying, “This summer, the Library is hiring staff and working to return to stable five-day service while welcoming children and families to visit their neighborhood libraries and participate in programs such as our Summer of Wonder reading and literacy program.”

That library system could get a boost with the proposed 2023 city budget. It would add $48 million for the library over the next five years. That money could be put to good use on innovative spaces such as the Field Teen Center at the library’s Parkway location. It features not only teen reading materials but activities and a space for teens to connect with their peers.

The library has also brought back its summer reading program, which features prizes for reading and doing activities. The summer reading program and the dozens of other programs (which vary by library branch) are all free. To find out more on programs and hours at your local library branch, click here:

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