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Philadelphia Free Library trustees vote to appoint new director

Kelly Richards would replace Siobahn Reardon, who resigned last year after library employees complained of racial discrimination and pay inequity.

The Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia in Center City.
The Parkway Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia in Center City.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

The board of trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia voted Friday to appoint a new director and president, replacing Siobhan Reardon who resigned more than a year ago following employee allegations of racial discrimination in the workplace.

The trustees appointed Kelly Richards, director of the Muskegon Area District Library in Michigan, to succeed Reardon.

Richards will now get a conditional offer for the job, said Alix Gerz, a spokesperson for the library system.

“A formal announcement is subject to satisfying all additional requirements of employment with the city of Philadelphia,” Gerz said.

Richards, who is Black, would take over leadership of the Free Library after months of internal turmoil over racism.

“I’m very honored beyond belief to be considered for such a prestigious position as the director of the Philadelphia Free Library,” he said in a statement Friday. “I’m currently communicating with my wife and adult kids about this awesome opportunity.”

Reardon, the library system’s longtime leader, resigned last July. A month earlier, a group called the Concerned Black Workers of the Free Library of Philadelphia sent an open letter to management, saying they faced racial discrimination and pay inequity.

» READ MORE: Black employees at the Free Library are throwing the book at management over racism, safety, and pay equity

In March, the trustees voted to replace Pamela Dembe, chair of the board of trustees, with Folasade A. Olanipekun-Lewis, a library board member and regional director for government and airport affairs at American Airlines, who took over in June.

The Free Library has faced other criticism in the past year as it attempted to take steps toward increasing diversity and inclusion. At a February diversity training for employees, for example, a speaker told the group to avoid terms such as “systemic racism” and “white privilege” — a suggestion that didn’t sit well with employees who have been fighting for racial justice.

Richards has worked as head of the Muskegon library since 2015, according to the Muskegon Chronicle. He worked as a police officer in Flint, Mich., before becoming a librarian and has worked in libraries in Las Vegas and Michigan, earned a master’s degree in library science from the University of Pittsburgh, and, according to the newspaper, has a hobby of ice fishing.