Sitting at a table inside the Fumo Family Library yesterday afternoon, Anthony Suber grinned with sweet relief.
A Common Pleas Court judge had just ordered Mayor Nutter to halt the closing of 11 city libraries, including Suber's branch in South Philadelphia. The shuttering had seemed so certain that a sign taped on the door announced it would take effect at 5 p.m. today.
Suber also frequents his old neighborhood in Kingsessing, which also was to lose its library. He offered that branch, a place he has relied on since elementary school, as a testament to the importance of community libraries.
"If that library closed, it would increase the violence there," he said. Now, with the last-minute reprieve, "kids have somewhere to go, somewhere that's safe."
In many neighborhoods, primarily the city's poorest, libraries stand as havens. Activists who fought the closings argued that the branches promoted literacy, bridged the digital divide, and kept kids off the street, away from drugs and gunfire. Nutter's plan to close some is driven by Philadelphia's fiscal crisis, although this week he announced he would replace them with "knowledge centers."
The Fumo Family Library sits on Broad Street between Ritner and Porter in a commercial strip that includes a bank, a nail salon, a pharmacy and a dry cleaner. A library has been in the community off and on, under different names, since 1914. It's open every day except Sunday - and Suber takes full advantage.
He's here most days, typically before the after-school rush.
A caterer unemployed since September, Suber spent part of the afternoon reading a Japanese cookbook while he waited his turn on the Internet to search for a job.
Word of the reprieve hadn't yet filtered to the stacks. When it did, the library's steady crowd of job hunters, music lovers, movie watchers and avid readers matched Suber's glee.
"I feel relieved," said 14-year-old Demarcus Clark, standing near the comics, wearing a navy hoodie and baggy jeans and reading the DC Comics encyclopedia.
"Usually I don't have no place to go," he said, lamenting the community's dearth of safe havens, primarily after school. "If I don't feel like going straight home, I come here."
Stanley Harrison, 52, has been frequenting the branch since August, when he was let go from a scrap yard in Delaware County. With no computer at home, Harrison depends on the library's Internet access to hunt down a job.
To pass the 35-minute wait, he read a workbook, How to Weld. On the table next to him was his very worn library card.
Of the news, he said: "It's great . . . especially for the kids."
At the information desk, under the tapping of the computer keys, staffers quietly wondered whether the Fumo Family Library was here for good or just temporarily. Nutter announced plans to appeal the judge's order not long after the decision.
But another patron, Sandra Moore, savored the news.
In the throes of remodeling her home, Moore, 37, a self-described book lover, took out how-to magazines and the book Christopher Lowell's Seven Layers of Organization, which offers tips on uncluttering.
"I am so happy," she gushed.