by Stan Cutler

Around 100 neighbors went to the library for a slide presentation about Philadelphia trees by authors Ned Barnard and Catriona Briger. Afterward, pleased to have learned so much, most folks lingered for hot cider, cookies and friendly conversation.

It was an auspicious event, like an opening kickoff or the top of the first inning. Our public media center, the branch library on Germantown Avenue, opened the community room for the first presentation to take place there since the drop-down projection screen broke years ago. No one can quite remember the last time it worked. New board members of the library friends learned that there was no digital projector or sound system either. Thankfully, there are 80 comfortable chairs. To mount the current series of four presentations, the volunteer Friends of the Library rented equipment.

The Free Library of Philadelphia owns and operates the precious resource, our public media center (PMC), the library at the top of the hill. But the City Council won’t appropriate enough money to afford repairs or capital improvements. When new board members of the volunteer association were elected in the fall, they learned that there had not been an adult librarian at our branch for over a year and that library hours had been drastically curtailed. Shame on City Council and the Mayor. This is important business.

The FLP is a media infrastructure, a city agency chartered to “Advance literacy, guide learning and inspire curiosity. Its vision is to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.”

Apparently, our elected officials see the branch library system as just another payroll in the portfolio. It’s hard to measure the FLP’s benefits to an enlightened civil society when the bean counters who whisper in the politicians’ ears allow an essential infrastructure to wither.

It’s a new age. The rate at which cyber media technologies are being introduced is forcing rapid social change. The public needs to assert its rights in the face of this maelstrom. We have to be unmoving stalwarts against the changes. We want and shall have an enlightened democratic society. We shall have a public center in Chestnut Hill that serves all of us. Certainly, our children need the library. But learning doesn’t stop when we graduate. In fact, the older we get, the more we learn! Barnard, who just co-authored a beautiful, terrifically organized guidebook on tree spotting, is in his 70s. The audience was an older crowd: lively and energized, eager to participate in public learning.

On Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. at 8711 Germantown Ave.:

Jan. 29: Civil War Medicine: What Went Right (see ad)

The extraordinary levels of battlefield carnage during the Civil War demanded a new, scientific approach to medicine – previously an art. Documentary film maker Carole Adrienne presents a compelling slideshow from the four-part series she is developing for PBS to premiere on WHYY.

Feb. 5: Chimpanzees, Jane and Me

Scientist Bill Konstant tells stories about training chimpanzees in America, being inspired by the work of Dr. Jane Goodall and helping to ensure the survival of chimpanzees in their native Africa. He shares insights from a 40-year career as a wildlife preservationist on four continents and personal experiences with the world’s most endangered and interesting animals.