It's quite a Christmas-wish list.
In anticipation of President-elect Barack Obama's stimulus package, Mayor Nutter has asked for millions in library funding, but the money wouldn't go toward saving the 11 neighborhood branches slated for closure next week.
Nutter's request is part of massive list the U.S. Conference of Mayors has submitted for infrastructure projects that cities would like to see funded.
Philadelphia has $2.6 billion in projects on the list, including a request for $30 million to build a regional library in North Philadelphia and another in South Philadelphia. The city already has three, one each in the Northeast and in West and Northwest Philadelphia. The request comes as the Nutter administration plans to close 11 neighborhood branches as part of extensive budget cuts. The mayor has said that closing those branches will save $8 million, largely in staffing.
In a statement about the future of the libraries, Library Executive Director Siobhan Reardon laid out a plan for two regional libraries to supplement the library system. The city has three regional libraries, one in the Northeast and in West and Northwest Philadelphia.
The two new regional libraries would be created by expanding neighborhood libraries, according to mayoral spokeswoman Maura Kennedy. Staffing would not be an additional expense at the expanded facilities, because librarians would already be in place.
Kennedy added that infrastructure funding can't be used to pay for operating costs. So should the city get this requested funding, it couldn't be used to keep the neighborhood branches open.
Amy Dougherty, executive director of Friends of the Free Library, said this request for library funding felt like a hollow victory.
"I think it's a win, but it's a little bit backhanded," Dougherty said. "It's only because the administration is closing 11, we can't get out on the street and celebrate."
The city wish list also includes $500,000 to buy bookmobiles to serve neighborhoods without easy access to a library and $25 million to expand the Central Library.
The other money requested, if granted, would go toward numerous projects, including improvements to the Zoo, the Mann Music Center and Dilworth Plaza around City Hall. *