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Nutter decides no libraries will close before July

A reversal of fortune for 11 branches that were facing the ax.

A patron walks into  the Kingsessing Library. The Nutter administration announced Wednesday that no Philadelphia public libraries will close before June 30. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)
A patron walks into the Kingsessing Library. The Nutter administration announced Wednesday that no Philadelphia public libraries will close before June 30. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)Read more

No city library will be closed between now and June 30, the Nutter administration said yesterday.

It was a swift and surprising turn of events in an emotional and enduring saga that has embroiled the city, the courts, library advocates and neighborhood residents who have demonstrated unwavering fealty to their local branches.

"We are absolutely thrilled and we thank the mayor," Amy Dougherty, director of the Friends of the Free Library, said last night. She acknowledged that the move was temporary, and that branches would still be facing limited hours and possible emergency closures.

It's also not yet clear whether the branches will be operating on a three-, four-, or five-day-a-week schedule, Nutter spokesman Doug Oliver said last night.

Deputy Mayor Donald Schwarz revealed the plan at a budget meeting yesterday afternoon.

Nutter's chief of staff, Clay Armbrister, said it was too soon to say what would happen after June 30.

The view was echoed by Schwarz, who said, "We are going to do everything in our power not to close any libraries, but I make no guarantees," after the meeting as he rushed for the elevators.

The library system seems likely to feel the pinch of budget cuts again, but it appeared to some observers that the Nutter administration would like to achieve those savings without closing any branches.

Last night, Oliver took pains to say the disposition of the libraries beyond June 30 had not been decided. "It's not fair to say the city has abandoned its plan to close libraries," he said. "But, with additional budget challenges to face, we have decided to defer any decision on libraries until after we've completed the budget process for fiscal year 2010."

The Nutter administration had planned to shutter 11 branches of the library to help plug a budget gap. A judge then ordered the branches to remain open.

The city complied, though with reduced staffs and emergency closures.

The administration appealed the ruling and is awaiting further judgment. But Oliver asserted that even if the city wins the appeal, all 54 system libraries will remain open until the end of June.

Some close to the process characterized the decision as a capitulation by an administration that may have underestimated citizens' ardor for their libraries.

Blunting that notion, City Councilman Jim Kenney said, "I've known the mayor for a long time, and caving in is not something I would describe the mayor as prone to doing."

Bill Green, Kenney's colleague on Council and a staunch advocate for keeping the libraries open, said, "I call what the mayor did responding to data, not caving in. I greatly appreciate this commitment.

"I look forward to working with the administration to come up with a permanent solution after June 30."