Alani Tolliver (left) helps long time librarian Pat Leaming check in books. Leaming will soon retire at 88. (Photo by Brendan Sample)

by Brendan Sample

After nearly three decades of working for several branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Pat Leaming is now set to retire at the beginning of May. Though she is currently working at the Chestnut Hill Free Library, her impact on the community has reached out farther than just one institution.

Leaming began working for the Free Library of Philadelphia in 1989 when she joined the Andorra branch. This was the first paying job she had ever had, as she had previously focused on volunteer work and raising her children.

“I was at home raising 10 kids, or maybe they were raising themselves,” Leaming joked.

Having put in 16 years at Andorra, Leaming went to the Lovett Memorial Library in Mt. Airy, but later came to Chestnut Hill when that branch closed for renovations. This sort of turnover is not uncommon for library employees and allowed her to gain a unique perspective on the different branches in Philadelphia.

“If they need you in another branch, you go, so we become familiar with the other libraries,” Leaming said.

After putting in so many years with the Library, Leaming is now looking forward to retiring because the timing feels right. Her last day at the branch is May 5, though her plans for what she would like to do after retirement are still up in the air..

“I’m 88, and I just think it’s time,” Leaming explained. “Who knows how long we have? I had an aunt who lived to 104, so you never know, but that’s why I decided to do it.”

In addition to her library work, Leaming, who lives in Chestnut Hill, has been extremely active in her church, Our Mother of Consolation, for more than 60 years. Her dedication to the community has earned her a positive reputation among even those who don’t know her directly.

“I always thought that Pat was a lovely woman in the community,” said Mary Welsh, a former head of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library. “She’s been a wonderful supporter of Chestnut Hill who’s always friendly and has cared greatly about this community.”

Looking back on her time with the various branches, there are a number of moments that stick out for Leaming, from cataloging hundreds of books on a day when Andorra was closed to accidentally locking a patron in after hours. When considering the best things about her time, Leaming appreciated the variety of her tasks most of all.

“It’s quite varied here,” Leaming said. “You’re helping patrons at the desk, you’re shelving books, you’re answering the phone, etc. I felt that each thing was good.”

Though she doesn’t plan on leaving the community any time soon, it’s clear that Leaming will certainly be missed after so many years with the library. One patron even suggested that she should get her own parade down Germantown Avenue on the day of her retirement. Going into her final month of work, she can certainly take comfort in the many supportive friendships she has developed over the course of this time.

“I would say I’ve made a lot of friends in these years,” Leaming said. “You know, the patrons and people with whom I work, and that’s good. I still see them, so I’ll just pick up from there.”

Brendan Sample can be reached at


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