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More than shelves and books

An abridged look at 11 branches slated for closing

Abigail Bell, 7, a 2nd grader, tells her mom to record another book - her 49th - at the Fishtown Community Branch Library, as she aims to to read 100 books in a contest at school.
Abigail Bell, 7, a 2nd grader, tells her mom to record another book - her 49th - at the Fishtown Community Branch Library, as she aims to to read 100 books in a contest at school.Read more

A CHILL RIPPED through Philadelphia two weeks ago when Mayor Nutter announced budget cuts that included the closing of 11 of the city's 54 libraries to help fill a $1 billion budget hole over the next five years.

Many of the targeted branches are in poor, high-crime neighborhoods where they serve as after-school havens, community centers and computer labs.

Library Director Siobhan Reardon said that the city weighed many factors in deciding which libraries to close, including size, attendance and condition. She says they made sure that no resident will be more than two miles from a library.

But Amy Dougherty, director of the Friends of the Free Library, said many patrons will not easily be able to get to a library after the cuts.

"The whole thing is asinine; it doesn't make any sense at all," said Dougherty, who is seeking private funds to keep branches open. Rallies will be held at the targeted branches tomorrow.

Yesterday the Daily News visited each of the 11 branches after school was out to see what would be lost. Here are the stories from our afternoon in the stacks:

- Catherine Lucey


Devon Burton, a 9-year-old aspiring doctor, walked up Haverford Avenue past the huge mural that read, "Save Our Children," and opened the door to the Charles Durham/Mantua library yesterday with hunched shoulders, weighed down by a book bag almost as big as he.

He walks to the library at 33rd and Haverford almost every afternoon to do homework, read and use the computer. He has no computer at home.

"We don't have things here in this neighborhood," he said. "Many kids come here. They need to keep this open.

"I won't be, but some kids will end up on the streets without it."

The airy, colorful well-lit, well-stocked, blue-carpeted library was bustling yesterday afternoon with young, old and everything in between.

Tykia Lloyd, 10, walks here every afternoon to do her homework because she can't be home alone. Sometimes an after-school tutor helps her. Her 12-year-old cousin walks her home at 5 p.m.

"I like coming here. It's quiet. It's just nice to be here," she said.

Johanna Marshall, 30, got up from the computer. She's looking for a job, can't afford Internet at home, so she uses the library computer, printer and copier five days a week. She's an avid reader, too.

"It [the branch closing] leaves people like me up a creek," she said.

A group of nine elementary- school children stood with their teacher outside in the chill with placards and chanted, "Save Our Library."

Carson Moody, 44, a 10th-grade dropout who delivers ads, stopped to sign the petition. "What the hell are they thinking to close this?" he muttered.

"This is the only safe haven for kids," said Moody, who devours Star Wars books.

"It's a flower in a field of thorns."

Next-closest branch: 1.2 miles, Walnut Street West, 40th and Walnut

- Barbara Laker


Many residents of Mayfair will tell you they fell in love with reading at the Holmesburg Branch.

Then there's Dolores Mikolajewski. The 45-year-old Wawa clerk simply says she fell in love there.

"Please don't let them close the library," she implored yesterday. "This is the only place I can come to keep in touch with the man I love."

She met "Danny" while playing poker on the Internet in December 2006. They began to chat regularly. He, from his home in the Netherlands; she, from one of seven library computers. They defied the six-hour time difference, she said.

Now Nutter's proposed budget cut affecting the branch is going to put a serious crimp in her lovelife.

"This is the kind of love you don't throw away," she said. "I realized right here in this library that he was the one I wanted for life. It was here."

The subject line of her e-mail to him yesterday read, "Bad news." She wrote, "They are going to shut the library - I just don't know when."

Her eyes welled up. She waved her hand in front of her face as if to fan away her tears. "My kids think I'm crazy," she said, smiling through tears.

The 101-year-old library, situated across from a bike shop on Frankford Avenue, was built with money from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The neighborhood grew around the one-room building. Generations of kids grew up inside. At 4:30 p.m., the place was bustling.

"It's not just a building. It's not just a library. It's a place where people's lives are integrated and formed," said Michele Dolan, 38. "The thought of it being gone - it's unfathomable."

Asked how he felt about the library's impending closure, Dol- an's 8-year-old son, Daniel, peered over his wire-rimmed glasses and said, "Vexed."

Next-closest branch: 2 miles, Tacony Library, Torresdale Avenue and Knorr Street

- Wendy Ruderman


For a few hours every day the Eastwick Branch serves as the surrogate home for Sierra Elliott and two cousins, Angelo and Ricardo Champagne.

After school, the three kids walk home to feed their dog, Lola, and cat, Chilla, and to munch on snacks. Then it's off to the library for homework, games on the computer or reading until closing time.

"This is the place we come to every day where we meet new people," said Sierra, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at the Pepper Middle School. "Watching TV is not always fun."

Yesterday, the three and others arrived at the branch, on Island Avenue near Lindbergh Boulevard in Southwest Philly, to rally against the planned closing. To their disappointment, the event was canceled, rescheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow.

Sierra said she signed a petition Wednesday that her school plans to deliver to Nutter.

The stone building was built in 1979, on a commercial strip that includes a shopping center, a medical office and residences.

But one staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that due to its location, it garners the least number of people among the library branches in Southwest Phildadelphia.

"There's not enough population," she said, adding that immigrants, teenagers and the elderly are among their patrons.

To Angelo, the branch is like home.

"This is the only library we go to. I don't want it to close," he said.

Next-closest library: 1.3 miles, Paschalville branch, on 69th Street near Woodland Avenue

- Dafney Tales


Elizabeth Yohannes, 14, has been coming to the Haddington Branch since she was 6. It's where she does homework before walking down the block to pick up her younger sister from school.

Carl Pierre-Louis, 16, says he has come daily since he was 7, and now has the skills to help other borrowers find materials when branch staffers are busy.

Tara Webb-Jones, 41, bought a home in the West Philly community just to be close to the library, which opened in 1915, one of the 3,000 libraries across the U.S. built by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

"I thought this library was gorgeous," Webb-Jones said yesterday, before using one of the seven computers to fill out a financial-aid form for her son at St. Joe's Prep.

At first sight, the library could be mistaken for a church, with its picture-book windows and arched front entranceway.

The library's regulars will tell you that they receive sustenance from the place, and a growing number use the computers to search for jobs.

Tomorrow, they will convene on the steps for a noontime "Save our Library" rally.

Shauneille Taylor, 36, a city schoolteacher who lives across the street, always tells her daughter to go to the library if she ever feels unsafe.

Now Taylor is looking for solace. "How can you take something like a library out of a community?"

Yohannes, who attends John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls' High School, said, "My whole schedule would just change for the worst. It would be chaos."

Pierre-Louis, who attends Overbrook High School, said: "Basically, it would destroy my world. This is where I get every book that I read."

Next-closest branch: 1.1 miles, Overbrook Park Library, Haverford Avenue near Brookhaven Road.

- Mensah M. Dean


The Wadsworth branch is a storefront on a Wadsworth Avenue commercial strip in Cedarbrook, in Northwest Philadelphia. Renovated several years ago, the interior resembles a Borders bookstore.

It's clean and well-lit, and at 3:30 yesterday was teeming with children. Most were from the McCloskey elementary school a block away, and most of them know about the planned closing.

"We come here every day. We need a place to stay out of trouble," said Dahvae Daniels, a sixth-grader. "We do our homework here, then walk home."

He was busy circulating a petition asking the city to keep the library open.

Sixth-grader Marissa Beck said she'd heard Wadsworth was targeted for closing because kids in Mount Airy used their library better than those in Cebarbrook and "got better grades."

Moving among the tables of kids working were staff from the library's after-school program offering help with homework.

Geraldine Nimmons-Robinson, the school-community liaison for McCloskey, hovered over the kids, calling many by name.

"I've always encouraged parents not to use the library as day- care," Robinson said, "but the reality is that this is their safe haven, and this where they come. It would be a travesty to close it."

Fourth-grader Tamere Dancey said he and his parents were puzzled by the city's planned budget cuts.

"Seems like the bars and liquor stores are staying open, but they're closing the places that kids need."

By closing time, Dahvae Daniels said he had more than 400 signatures on his petitions against closing Wadsworth. "I'm going to send them to Michael Nutter," he said.

Next-closest branch: 1.2 miles, West Oak Lane, 74th Avenue and East Washington Lane

- Dave Davies


Second-graders Shayana Watson and Abigail Bell, classmates at Alexander Adaire School a few blocks away, walked into the Fishtown Community Library yesterday as if it was their home away from home - which it is.

For two hours, the 7-year-olds did their homework, read books for fun and played reading games on the computers.

"She loves this place," said Shayana's mom, Nicole Watson, who left briefly to pick up Shayana's twin sister, Fayana, from an after-school program.

Another Adaire second-grader, Teddy Oprea, who has a learning disability, read with his one-on-one aide, Erreon Womack.

During the three years they've spent their afternoons at the library, Teddy went from struggling with words to avidly reading fourth-grade books.

"It's quiet, so he's focused here," Womack said. "It has the books he loves to read. He lives nearby. It's all good. What's he going to do if they close this library?"

Like many neighborhood kids and adults who filled the homey little branch yesterday afternoon, Christine Peterson, Abigail's mom, depends on the computers because she can't afford a home computer and Internet service.

Abigail brought home a flier from school announcing a Sunday march from the Fishtown branch to the Kensington branch on Dauphin near Front, where Fishtown kids would have to go if the city closes their library.

"That neighborhood?" Peterson said. "Forget it."

"With all the drinking and the heavy drugging around there," Watson said, "you don't know if you'll make it to the next corner."

Next-closest branch: 1 mile, Kensington Library, Dauphin Street near Front

- Dan Geringer


Four boys huddled together around a table at the Queen Memorial Library in Point Breeze yesterday afternoon, looking decidedly world-weary and glum.

The city's fiscal crisis managed to turn a group of kids into hardened cynics.

"George Bush and Michael Nutter screwed up, and we have to pay for it," sighed Hamid Branch, 12.

Branch and his pals, all students at Walter G. Smith Elementary School, spend two or three hours every day inside the cozy confines of Queen Memorial, staying safe.

"If we can't be here, we'll be on the street, where we might do something we probably shouldn't," added Kahlio Woods, 13.

At 4 p.m. yesterday, more than 40 kids were inside the branch, on Federal Street near 23rd, playing chess, researching school projects on computers and getting homework help from library aides.

Queen Memorial is also regularly used by seniors who live in the Landreth Apartments, which is part of the same building.

"We're all like family here," said Roslyn Lemay, who visits Queen Memorial daily with her children, ages 2 to 9, to check out books or DVDs.

"Some parents work day jobs until 5 or 6 p.m. They know their kids can meet their friends here, read and do their homework. Without this place, you'll have another generation of latch-key kids," Lemay said.

Carl Tavares, 78, another branch regular, looked up from his newspaper and smiled at a table of kids next to him.

"In one breath, we're saying, 'No child left behind,' " Tavares said, "and in the next, we're closing down libraries. Doesn't make sense."

Next-closest branch: 1.2 miles, South Philadelphia branch, Broad and Morris streets

-David Gambacorta


With its Colonial Revival architecture, the Kingsessing Branch looks like a small college hall on a parklike setting.

There is lush green grass on one side and the playgrounds of the Kingsessing Rec Center nearby.

After school, children bound up the granite steps and walk through the entrance where a wall plaque reads:

"This building was given to the City of Philadelphia by Andrew Carnegie, ESQ, to be used forever as the Kingsessing Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia."

Inside, the carpet is clean, the walls are bright, and stuffed animals adorn the children's section.

Two tables of children aged 8 to 11 are getting homework help from two library workers. There are about 11 children in all.

In the adult room, there are eight or nine teens and two adults. Three youngsters, about 12 and 13, quietly work at computers. Three older boys and two girls, about 15 to 16, gather at a table and look at magazines.

Back in the children's room, 5-year-old Josiah Johnson clicks through a computer program called "Reader Rabbit."

"We love coming here because the children's area is just wonderful," Alayna Johnson, Josiah's mother said.

Johnson is home-schooling Josiah and his brothers, Alexander, 9, and Augustine, 11. The older boys are completing homework.

Johnson said she, her husband, Erik, and their sons all attended a rally at the branch Saturday to protest the closing.

She points to her children's drawings hanging with other drawings on a banner. One says: "Stop. Don't close our library."

Jen Marvelouscame in with her four youngsters: 2-year-old twins and their 5- and 8-year-old sisters.

"We love it here," said Marvelous, who also home-schools her children.

Jeronne Wesley, 35, was playing a game of checkers with his 8-year-old daughter, Jayonna.

"I've been coming here for 25 years, since I was a kid," Wesley said.

Soon, Marvelous's 8-year-old daughter plopped down at the table with Jayonna. Wesley turned the checkers game over to the girls, one black, one white, who didn't know each other before they started playing together.

"It's just the kind of library where children just meet new friends," Wesley said.

Right now, Wesley said, he lives just "down the street" from the Kingsessing library.

Next-closest branches: both 1.4 miles, Lucien Blackwell Regional Library, 52nd and Sansom streets; the Walnut Street Library, 40th and Walnut

-- Valeria Russ


The David Cohen Ogontz Branch, at 6017 Ogontz Ave., opened in 1997, after a 36-year struggle by the late city councilman David Cohen and his wife, Florence, who hosted the first planning meeting way back in 1961.

The small, prefabricated light-filled branch with curved windows, inset with more than a dozen carousels stacked with 35,000 books, draws students from eight schools and five day-care centers. Among them: Martin Luther King, Girls High and Central High Schools.

Two Wagner Middle School students, Brian Archie, 13 and Bright Enyondo, 12, come here nearly every day, do their homework, or research, then play games on computers.

Adjacent to the big boys sat a 4-year-old boy, working the mouse like a pro. "My mom don't have a computer," he said.

A retired high-school teacher helps numerous children with their homework, especially those who lack reading or math skills or simply need help with school projects.

Some library-goers, such as Kim Miller, 31, and Lamont Davis, 60, have fallen in love with the librarians, because they're so helpful, unlike those at some other branches, they say.

Darrell Jackson, 44, an electronic technician, said he was studying for an exam - in electronics - to enhance his career. "If it sparks, I work on it," he said.

A recent Nigerian immigrant who declined to give his name said he worked in broadcast journalism and was upset that Nutter wanted to close the library.

"Here you have the fountain of knowledge," he said. "American is not a Third World country."

The library averages 425 walk-ins a day, but yesterday drew a low 200, attributed to the lousy weather.

Next-closest branch: 1 mile, Oak Lane Library, 12th Street near Oak Lane Avenue.

-Kitty Caparella


Since 10-year-old Tamara Elbarouki's family came to the United States six years ago from Venezuela, she has known one place where she has felt like she belonged - the Fumo Family Library on South Broad Street near Porter.

"It's the best place I know of," she said. "The library is like part of my family now."

Since it opened in 1999, it has been a haven where immigrants and their children could get help learning English.

"A lot of parents learn along with their kids," said tutor Pat Paradin. "It's a community thing."

Elbarouki, her sister and her mother come every day for two hours after school lets out around the corner at A.S. Jenks Elementary. Tamara cried when she found out last week her library would be closing.

"Most of all, the people that work here help my mom," Tamara said. "She's really, really getting better at English now because they're helping her."

Amil Bouslemani, an immigrant from Algeria, doesn't speak English well, so she brings her 5-year-old daughter to the library to practice.

"We don't have another chance for help," Amil said through an interpreter. "Please stay the library open. I want more chances for my daughter."

Danielle Giorgio, 19, said she hadn't been to a library in 12 years before stepping foot in the Fumo Family Library yesterday to look up the meaning behind an unsettling dream she had.

"I actually always wanted to come to a library," she said. "Today was just the day."

Unfortunately, it looks as if there might not be a tomorrow.

Next-closest branch: 0.6 miles, Thomas F. Donatucci Sr. Library, Shunk Street near South Garnet

- Stephanie Farr


Logan residents are fighting back.

Ten signs, hand-painted and printed, were taped to the pillars at the front of the Logan Branch, on Wagner Road near Old York, where a rally to save the library was held Wednesday night.

"Logan Library Builds Inspiration," "Library Closings Hurt Our Children!" and "Yes, we can. Logan Library Shall Remain" were some of the messages.

Yesterday afternoon, a diverse crowd ranging from children to senior citizens, immigrants to longtime neighborhood residents, filled the library, browsing books, studying in relative silence and surfing the Web. The seven computer terminals were in use for much of the afternoon.

Down in the basement, teachers from the Delaware Valley Charter High School were meeting in a community space away from work where they could discuss union-organizing.

Ethel Brown, one of the organizers of the community's effort to keep the library open, said her three grown children had become "straight-A students" because of the branch.

"My children were born and raised in this library," Brown said. They used its resources because "we didn't have [them] so we were always here."

Kathleen Kelly and her son Robert Torres, 8, stopped by the library, like they do almost every day.

"I just got my library card here and it's going to close," Robert said. His mom, Kelly, said she wasn't going to visit the next-closest branch because the area "was not the best."

Next-closest branch: 0.9 miles, Greater Olney Branch, 5th and Tabor streets *

- Regina Medina