by Sue Ann Rybak

Saturday hours returned at Lovett Memorial Library, 6945 Germantown Ave., on Feb. 22, as part of Free Library of Philadelphia’s 21st Century Initiative, whose goal is to create innovative hubs of learning and expand the libraries presence in the community.

“The goal of the project is not only to increase library hours and renovate older neighborhood branches but to create libraries that are digital community centers,” said Joe Benford, chief of Neighborhood Library Services Division for the Free Library of Philadelphia, at a public meeting held in Lovett Memorial Library on Feb. 22 to discuss proposed renovations.

Lovett is one of four libraries selected to participate in the first phase of the Free Library’s Initiative. The FLP also selected Logan, Tacony and Lillian Marrero libraries based on factors such as poverty levels, illiteracy rates, accessibility and needed structural repairs.

Architectural firms involved in the Lovett renovations are JR Keller LLC and Vitetta. About 40 patrons attended the meeting to hear James R. Keller, who has designed libraries around the world and specializes in designing welcoming spaces for children and teens, explain in detail the proposed schematic drawing designs at the Saturday meeting.

Also in attendance were Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia; Sara Moran, FLP’s chief of staff; Ignatius Wang, a member of the FLP’s board of trustees, and David T. Moore, president of the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library.

“One of the goal’s of the 21st Century Initiative is to make the library more welcoming and comfortable and to make sure the increase in technology is accessible to everyone in the community,” Keller said.

The proposed renovations include an additional 2,680 square feet for the new children’s area, a new handicapped-accessible entry way, two handicapped-accessible bathrooms, an open living room space with custom shelving and comfortable seating, a study room, a teen area, a seating area for laptop and tablet users, a quiet reading area on the second floor, an elevator from the main floor to the mezzanine, a computer lab on the mezzanine and a roof terrace.

The library was last renovated in 1999 as part of of the FLP’s “Changing Lives” campaign. The building was donated by Charlotte Lovett Bostwick in 1887 as a memorial to her brother, Thomas R. Lovett. A new addition was built in 1961, and the Lovett Memorial Reading Garden was dedicated in 2004.

Benford, who is project director for the 21st Century Libraries Initiative, said under the current design a reduction in nonfiction items would be required. The branch’s current collection size is 38,456 volumes, according to Benford.

“Currently, nonfiction accounts for almost 50 percent of the collection but only 7.7 percent of the circulation,”  Benford said.

Teresa Glover, the children’s librarian, noted that the majority of fiction can not be check out.

Benford said after renovations are complete, the collection size will be approximately 31,000 items.

Several attendees at the meeting voiced concerns regarding the proposed decrease in circulation, security and staffing issues. Other concerns discussed were an insufficient amount of tables, chairs and shelving to accommodate current users.

Under the current design, two librarians would be stationed downstairs, and a digital resource specialist would be assigned to supervise the computer lab.

Eileen Levinson, former head librarian at Lovett, voiced concerns about the functionality of the plan and the need for sufficient shelving and tables and chairs.

Levinson said the last time the library was renovated in the mid-1990s, the staff and the residents were not consulted, which resulted in thousands of dollars being wasted.

“We spent so much money having to fix things by architects who didn’t understand the function of the furniture,” Levinson said. “The custom shelving designed to display books broke because it could not hold the weight.”

Levinson said the staff was forced to scour every library branch basement in search of sturdy shelving.

“They need to really think this out,” Levinson said. “My other concern is the lack of staffing upstairs. “There needs to be way more help and supervision upstairs because you can not see what’s happening from the first floor.”

Levinson said that the quiet room, due to its remote location, and roof terrace are both potentially dangerous areas.

“Now, having said that, I am thrilled there is going to be a library extension,” Levinson added. “We have the room, and I wanted to have this for a long time. So, I am hoping for the best. I am hoping they listen to the input that the community had because I think it was quite appropriate. There were a lot of things they didn’t think about.”

Moore suggested getting rid of the roof terrace and making the proposed addition two stories.

“In my 62 years of using Lovett Library, I never heard anyone say the library needed a roof terrace,” Moore said. “Personally, I’d like to see the addition be 50 feet wide, adding about 1100 sq. ft. to the proposed 2400, and be made into a two story space and not left open.”

Despite several negative comments, most attendees were happy that the FLP was moving forward to make renovations.

“This is the first I’ve seen this,” said Mt. Airy resident Jocie Dye, treasurer of East Mt. Airy Neighbors. “I think the design looks great and I am really excited that this is happening.”

Benford was unable to speculate on the cost of renovations.

“We won’t have a firm cost of renovations until we do the construction documents, which would be the next phase of the project,” Benford said. “We are actively seeking private funding to make this [design] a reality.”

Reardon, director of the FLP, reassured residents that their concerns were being heard.

“What you are seeing now is the reflection of the first set of the public forum conversations we had,” Reardon said. “There is a lot that needs to be incorporated based on the input we are getting today. I do think it’s an important process for us to make sure that the community knows we are listening because there are things we haven’t thought about that need to be addressed, and there are things that reflect new library services that we now want to present to the community as well.”

Reardon told attendees that the FLP would create a Facebook page so patrons who were unable to attend the meeting could examine the design and voice their suggestions or concerns.

Benford added while the library doesn’t have a project time line, he didn’t expect the development to start before March 2015. He said the FLP estimates that the project would be completed within 18-20 months after the start of construction.

Reardon added that there will be other opportunities for patrons to voice their opinions.

Moore said he was pleased that so many patrons came out for the meeting.

“I was impressed that this was a very engaged group,” Moore said. “They had many questions, many suggestions and concerns. I am hopeful that the planners will take all that into consideration and come back and have another public meeting to address some of these concerns.

“In the meantime, I hope there is a good way for them to get the information up digitally. We tried to put some information up on our brand new Web site friendsoflovett.org and our Facebook page.”

Moore encouraged residents with questions or concerns to contact the Friends of Lovett Memorial Library at lovettfriends@gmail.com. Residents can also email Joe Benford at benfordj@freelibrary.org.

This story was updated on March 4 at 4:16 p.m. An earlier version of the story erroneously quoted Moore as stating:

“Currently, nonfiction accounts for almost 50 percent of the collection but only 7.7 percent of the circulation.”  It should have been attributed to Benford.