By Stan Cutler

A couple of months ago, the Adult Librarian at our Chestnut Hill branch moved to another location within the system. Prather Egan O’Donnell is our Children’s Librarian and the Branch Manager. As the boss, she is responsible for ensuring the safety and maintenance of the 110 year-old building, managing the collections and the technology, managing the non-professional staff, while performing all the reporting functions demanded of a senior employee in a complicated bureaucracy. Until a replacement for the departed Adult librarian is assigned, she does her best to perform those duties as well.

Miss Prather, as the children call her, is reluctant to take a sick day. Were she to do so, the non-professional circulation staff would be without tech support for digital devices or anyone to field reference questions. Now, without an adult librarian, book groups at our branch are not supported; ordering new titles to refresh the collection happens infrequently; outreach to community organizations and high schools is not attempted; adult programs are not planned, supported or advertised; grants and partnership opportunities are not pursued. Most importantly, adult patrons are often unable to talk to someone who can help them.

You might think that a system as large as the Free Library of Philadelphia (FLP) would be able to fill the vacancy quickly. You would be wrong. The last time there was a librarian vacancy at our branch, it took the FLP fifteen months to fill it. We, the volunteer Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, are concerned that our community is facing another long delay. It’s already been two months. While we are concerned for Miss Prather’s health and sanity, we are also concerned about the diminution of vital community services.

There is no shortage of recent, tech-savvy college graduates with library science degrees looking for jobs. Surely, there must be an Adult Librarian within the system who would leap at the chance to work in our fine building, in a neighborhood that does not suffer many of the problems of the inner-city branches. Why does it take so long to place someone at Chestnut Hill?

I’d like some answers, but they are not easily extracted from an opaque bureaucracy. Try, for example, to find a website that lists FLP job openings. I couldn’t. I called the FLP’s Human Resources Department phone number and received an automated message: “Please listen to the following instructions and select the person who should receive your message. (Click.) One or more of the voice mailboxes for this extension have not been activated. No listings match your entry.” I heard no beep, no listing of persons to ask, and I was unable to leave a message.

I tried looking for librarian openings on the City of Philadelphia website. Thirty different city departments with job openings were listed, but the Free Library was not among them. The departed librarian was receiving a salary, so you have to assume that it is not about insufficient funds. There is a job and money budgeted to pay for it. So, what’s their problem?

If you would like answers, perhaps you should get in touch with Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, reardons@freelibrary.org, 215-686-5300. Let us know what you find out through the “Contact” page of our website, chlibraryfriends.org.

On a different note, don’t miss a presentation called “Rescued From The Brink,” the next free event in our speaker series. On Tuesday February 25th, at 1:30 p.m. at 8711 Germantown Avenue, hear story-teller, zoologist and global wildlife conservationist Bill Konstant talk about successful efforts to save some of the world’s most endangered species: the American bison, Panamanian golden frog, Asian rhinos, the mountain gorilla, the bald eagle and others. Konstant, from Flourtown, fascinated us last year with a talk about working with his friend, Jane Goodall. “Rescued From the Brink” is likely to draw a standing-room crowd. If you’d like to be sure of a seat, there is a link on chlibraryfriends.org that will allow you to reserve one.

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