by Stan Cutler

I was supposed to deliver a slide presentation in an hour, and I was in a mild panic because there was so much light in the Library’s community room that images I wanted to project onto the screen were barely visible. The four high windows can be covered by 5-foot-by-7-foot translucent shades that are supposed to be controlled from a switch panel in a utility closet. It took a while to find the switches and discover that they don’t work. No one remembers the last time they did.

The community room is big enough to serve as an auditorium for an audience of 100 neighbors. It used to have an electrically-controlled partition across the middle, also out of order. The walls are generously lined with storage closets for books, art supplies and the miscellaneous remnants of forgotten programs. The motors embedded in the window frames function as locks that prevent the shades from being adjusted manually – even if you could reach them. The three other shades have been in the down position for a long time. I’m guessing that the one nearest the screen has been open since the turn of the 21st century.

There are 54 Free Library of Philadelphia branches. The buildings are old, with ours dating back to 1909. Librarians fear the next clogged toilet, leaky faucet, broken window, busted thermostat or inoperable water fountain. The FLP will send someone to do the repair – next week, next month or whenever. Across the city, civic associations called Friends of the Library pay for minor repairs or do them themselves. In other words, an essential component of Philadelphia civic life is deteriorating. City government does not value the system enough to meet its current or future obligations.

Because of the problems in the community room, the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library paid for the rental of a screen and projector for the current speaker series. But we need a permanent solution. We need to upgrade the facility for different kinds of presentations, for streaming media, to conduct classes and hands-on workshops. We have accepted proposals from vendors to provide and install the equipment. We’re going to pay for it from donations.

My talk on politics and news industry reform went well. It was the second one in our winter series of four presentations, and the first to be delivered in the daytime. We reversed the room, moved the screen to the end with the shades closed, turned the chairs around, spun the cart that supported the portable projector and moved the table with the cookies and the urn of hot cider. If we buy a ceiling-mounted projector, it will face only one way. Somebody’s going to have to fix the shades. If we fix the partition, we can double the number of program offerings.

The final presentation of the winter series will be next Tuesday, at 1:30 p.m.

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.