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Nutter's new plan to save the libraries: let non-profits and the private sector run them

The city hopes to transfer management of 11 library branches scheduled to be closed in less than three days to private foundations, wealthy individuals, companies and community development corporations, Mayor Nutter said in a press conference today.

The specific services offered at each former library would vary from site to site depending on the sponsor, and Nutter said the city only has tentative agreements in place for five of the 11 branches.

It was not immediately clear which of the 11 branches are on track to be saved, and the mayor did not identify the organizations, companies and individuals who have stepped up to support.

But his hope is that, in time, each of the 11 libraries will be converted into community “knowledge centers” that offer similar or perhaps even superior services to those now available at the branches: retaining book collections, computers, and perhaps even trained (though not city employed) librarians.

“Libraries are much more than repositories for books. We know this,” Nutter said. “They are the absolute complete nexus of community life.”

No city librarians or other municipal employees would work at the “knowledge centers,” so the city would retain the annual $8 million in savings it will achieve through closing the branches.

But Nutter was emphatic that the library properties would not be sold as part of any arrangements, suggesting that long-term leases would be used instead.

The mayor made his announcement at a press conference crowded with dozens of vocal protesters angry with his decision to close the 11 branches as a part of a larger plan to eliminate the city’s $1 billion-plus five-year budget gap.

At times, the protesters drowned the mayor out as he delivered what appeared to be relatively good news. In addition to the still-developing private partnerships, Nutter announced that federally-funded after school “LEAP” programs now offered at the closing libraries will be moved to other nearby locations in the affected neighborhoods.

During the press conference, Common Pleas Court Judge Idee Fox heard testimony from library closure opponents who filed a class action lawsuit seeking to prevent Nutter from shuttering the branches. Three City Council members also filed an emergency petition to try and stop the mayor from closing the libraries without first getting council's permission. Those proceedings have been combined, and will continue tomorrow.