One Heroic Nonprofit Revives 17 Libraries in West Philly

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September 28, 2014; Philadelphia Tribune

The growing trend of nonprofit organizations seeking volunteers and donations to support government institutions continues, as the Philadelphia Tribune writes about a local organization formed to reopen libraries in public schools facing strained budgets.

The paper reports that the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children has revived 17 libraries after a budget crunch hit the School District of Philadelphia during the 2009–10 academic year. It was spun off from collaboration between a local church and the nonprofit’s work on a reading literacy initiative.

Schools must be screened for entry into the program, with prospective candidates demonstrating solid leadership, strong community support from volunteers who can commit to work, and a good physical environment, according to the Alliance’s executive director.

Over the past few years, libraries have been closed, casualties of mass school closings across the city, a result of both demographic changes and the Great Recession. The idea of this program is to teach children how to use a library and make visits part of their regular routine. Funding cuts for the school district have resulted in cutbacks or elimination of library services.

The nonprofit is supported entirely by cash and in-kind donations from charitable foundations, corporations, and individuals, the Tribune reports, adding that it costs about $15,000 to $20,000 to run a school library for one to two days per week. The number of volunteers is based on student enrollment at each site.

The school libraries are important resources for children and teachers, encouraging reading beyond a student’s grade level and teaching basic lifetime research skills.—Larry Kaplan