Susan Benton welcomed attendees to the 2017 Partners Conference on Thursday with a quote.

"We are each other's harvest, we are each other's business, we are each other's magnitude and bond," she said, quoting Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "Paul Robeson."

Benton, president and CEO of the Urban Libraries Council, said she couldn't think of better words to open the conference at the Logan Hotel, where more than a dozen heads of public libraries from around the country gathered to seek new ways to form partnerships with their local leaders.

"The conference really is about reinforcing the idea that the library needs to acknowledge [that] its partners are essential," said Siobhan Reardon, president and director of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The Urban Libraries Council is an association of libraries in the United States and Canada, and advocates for libraries, encourages innovation among its members, and promotes partnerships between libraries and communities. The three-day conference ends Friday.  It includes panel discussions, speakers, a visit to the National Constitution Center, and an awards ceremony, where Christopher Coleman, the mayor of St. Paul, Minn., will receive the Urban Leader Award for his work with his city's library system.

After a welcome reception on Wednesday evening, the conference officially got underway Thursday morning. During the first panel discussion of the day, representatives from the city, the William Penn Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and Brandywine Realty Trust spoke about the importance of libraries and why they need to build strong partnerships with local organizations.

"Libraries are an important public institution, one of the equalizing public institutions in the history of the country, [that] have a very important role to play," said Managing Director Michael DiBerardinis,  one of the panelists.

"I think the Philadelphia system and the Philadelphia partnerships and the Philadelphia civic community, we want, at least this administration, Mayor Kenney, wants it to be a leading force in that effort," he added.

Benton praised the city's Rebuild initiative, a $500 million effort to renovate parks. recreation centers, and libraries,  calling it a model for cities and counties around the country. It is to be funded by the sweetened-drinks tax, which is embroiled in a lawsuit.

"It's basically saying we will not accept anything but the best. We're not going to accept things being marginalized in the city, we're going to be a strong city," she said.

Benton, citing a statistic from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, said 67 percent of children nationwide are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade. She said libraries improve literacy, especially among the poor.

Sheba Marcus-Bey, director of the East Cleveland, Ohio, public library system, agreed, saying libraries are tools against economic problems in cities.

"We're at the bottom, and we have to come back up," she said. "And so, the library is one of the resources that could help our community come back up."

Maureen Hartman, deputy director of the St. Paul library system, said the conference was useful.

"I'm really inspired and motivated by the work that other library systems are continuing to do … to think about libraries beyond just the books that are on our shelves," she said.