A rendering of interior renovations planned for Lovett.

A rendering of interior renovations planned for Lovett.

by Sue Ann Rybak

About 35 people gathered at Lovett Memorial Library, 6945 Germantown Ave., on Nov. 18 to hear an update on the proposed expansion and renovation of the library.

Earlier this year, the Free Library of Philadelphia announced that Lovett was selected as one of five libraries that would participate in the FLP’s “Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative,” a pilot program whose goal is to create innovative hubs of learning and expand the libraries presence in the community.

The other four libraries are Lillian Marrero Library, 601 West Lehigh Ave.; Logan Library, 1333 Wagner Ave.; Tacony Library, 6742 Torresdale Ave., and South Philadelphia Library, 1700 South Broad St.

Today’s libraries do more than just provide information. Today, patrons come to the library for everything – from learning how to knit to searching the Internet, applying for a job online or watching a movie or performance while dining under the stars.

“When we talk about libraries today, we talk about libraries being places for sharing, not places for storing,” said Toby Dichter, chair of the Foundation Board of the Free Library of Philadelphia, at the community meeting held on Tuesday night.

Siobhan A. Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, said the initiative will allow the Free Library of Philadelphia to continue to grow and evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of the community. The selected neighborhood libraries will each have a unique focus designed to meet that community’s specific needs. Lovett’s design focuses on creating a community hub where people of all ages can gather, connect and exchange ideas.

The “Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative” project is made possible through a $25 million grant from the William Penn Foundation and includes the renovation and expansion of the Parkway’s Central Library. Recently, the FLP celebrated the completion of its Skyline room and Culinary Literacy Center.

“The Free Library was originally built around the simple goal of community enlightenment and throughout the years has evolved to meet the public’s expanding need for knowledge,” Reardon said in a statement. “But now those needs have far outpaced our infrastructure, and we must evolve and expand in physical space and programmatic outreach.”

Architect James R. Keller, who is spearheading the design plans for the neighborhood branches, said the new design for Lovett includes a Maker Space, a place where patrons can learn how to use a 3-D printer, build their own video game characters, design their own website or learn robotics. Other features include a new children’s library, new elevators, a teen space, a quiet room, an improved circulation desk, and a porch.

He added that the FLP is working close with Mt. Airy USA to create a beautiful new garden and plaza area, where patrons can relax, read, and watch a performance or movie.

“The goal of the design solution is to create a welcoming environment that is sensitive to the existing structures and surrounding landscape,” said Keller, who co-authored “Designing Space for Children and Teens in Libraries” (ALA Editions 2010). “The renovated and new spaces will be more open and have the feel of a living room for people of all ages and interests.”

The library’s original building, which now functions as a meeting room, was built in 1887 by Charlotte Boswick in memory of her brother Thomas R. Lovett. In 1961, the main reading area opened. Later, in 1999, the library was renovated as part of the Changing Lives campaign. The proposed expansion would add an additional 4,002 square feet to the existing site.

Myra Leysorek, of Mt. Airy, asked if the library would be more program oriented versus book oriented.

Keller responded by saying that the library will still have “traditional materials.” He added that the collection should be “fairly close to the collection you have now – only now it will be displayed in a very different way.”

“The goal is to make the collection accessible to everyone,” Keller said.

He said all the shelving will be no higher than 60 inches, and books will be on shelving no lower than a foot from the floor “so people who have mobility issues won’t have to bend over and pick something up two inches from the floor.”

“Our main focus is accessibility,” Reardon said. “We want to make sure these rooms are wide open and you can move around.”

At earlier meetings, residents said the library was cramped and had uncomfortable seating. Participants also said the library’s “barrier entrance” was an impediment to its usage.

Attendees were happy to hear that the main entrance to the library would be changed. Keller said the new entrance design is very similar in footprint to the existing one, but will have accessible doors with sensors.

Keller said the existing 1960s addition will be the general family library for adults and teenagers of all ages. He said the new children’s library will be located on the first floor and will have sliding glass doors that open onto the porch, so, weather permitting, programs can take place on the lawn or plaza.

The computers will be moved to the mezzanine level where the Maker Space will be located. According to Jennifer Donsky, a spokeswoman for the Free Library of Philadelphia, a minimum of 12 new personal computers will be installed upstairs.

At previous meetings, patrons also voiced concerns about preserving the Wissahickon shist and other historical characteristics such as the meeting room.

Keller said the historic meeting room, will be “refurbished in a restoration-like manner, so it will look more like it did when it was originally built.”

“The library has always been a trusted, important anchor in all communities in Philadelphia,” said Cindy Affleck, a member of the FLP board of directors, who helped organize the meeting. “But to see this kind of really aggressive, sophisticated, important, relevant programming that we are going to be able to do when we improve these facilities is really really exciting.”

“Through Building Inspiration, we can now advance and extend the capabilities of our libraries to serve our communities in greater ways than ever before,” Reardon said in a statement. “This is not just a physical transformation – it’s a deeply human one.”

For more information about the Free Library of Philadelphia’s “Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative go to www.21stcenturylibraries.org/.