The hottest book display game in town.
Our next branch visit is in Lawncrest, nestled between North Philadelphia and the Lower Northeast. Of the library branches we’ve visited so far, Lawncrest is the newest. A mere 58 years old! How fresh.
First, a little history.
A community rallies
In 1957, the neighborhoods of Lawndale and Crescentville didn’t have their own libraries. Residents needed to go to the Greater Olney branch to the west, the Bushrod branch to the east, or wait for the weekly bookmobile to visit. Lawncrest resident Mildred Pruitt wasn’t having it. She rallied her neighbors and founded the Lawn-Crest Library Association. That year, the director of the Free Library met with residents at the Lawncrest Rec Center to come up with a plan. Within a few years, the rec center would have a library next door.
Construction on Lawncrest Library began in 1960, which explains the modern architecture vibe that’s more reminiscent of regular ol’ municipal buildings than some of our grandiose Carnegie-funded libraries. When Lawncrest opened its doors in 1961, it marked the culmination of four years of grassroots efforts combined with leadership and collaboration from the Free Library system.
That brings us to today.
When you walk into the Lawncrest Library, you’ll see a large, open space with a meeting room off to the side. You can drop your (late — oops) returns off with a library employee on your way in, and maybe strike up a conversation. I ask my new library friend for her favorite parts about Lawncrest. She tells me that she’s been working in the library system for five years, that this has been her home branch the whole time, and that she loves it. It’s easy to see why. The block the library sits on isn’t the most active place, but the vibe inside is homey and comfortable. She also tells me that this branch is super-popular with kids. Come by on a weekday between 3:30 and 5, and this room is packed with kids.
As you can see, the library isn’t quite as busy today. It’s late afternoon on a Saturday, and it’s pretty gross out. Still, patrons are hanging out, checking books out, and doing research on the library’s computers.
Even though we’re in one large room, the space has lots of nooks and separate-feeling spaces. In the back left corner, there’s a quiet area with several framed works of art in memory of community members.
Just outside the quiet area, you’ll find citizenship books and language learning materials for people new to the United States. This section also contains career guides and other employment-related books.
Across the way, there’s a whole set of shelves with books dedicated to Philadelphia specifically. Lawncrest has an exceptional display game. The library shelves aren’t exactly flowing over, but they do a remarkable job of picking out interesting books and making sure the patrons can see them. It’s easy to get swept up in. Don’t believe me? You’ll see when we get to the book swag.
When I’m checking out, the library staff person that I talked to earlier tells me about the LEAP program.* These free after school drop-in programs offer a huge range of activities for kids. At this branch, the kids in the program even got to paint a mural on the wall in the meeting room.
*Later, I’ll discover that this initiative includes free, online, live tutoring in English and Spanish — 7 days a week. So fantastic. Learn more here.
It’s hard to convey, but this library branch really feels like a space for the community. There are more plaques indicating that shelves and decor have been donated by Friends of the Library than I’ve ever seen. Right now, a mom and a librarian are working together to fill out some kind of benefits form on a library computer. That mom’s kid is having a blast nearby. I can hear library staff greeting regular patrons, and newspaper rustling. It’s somehow quiet and alive at the same time, with the occasional playful shriek of a toddler nearby.
Those displays get me so good that I wind up with four books. It’s almost more, but then I think of the special shelf I have at home for the library books I haven’t read yet. It involves bookends.
The Removers, a memoir by Andrew Meredith, comes from the Philadelphia display. According to a plaque inside the cover, it was donated by the Friends of Lawncrest Library in memory of Donald Vorgity. Children of War is a compilation of firsthand accounts from children who are Iraqi refugees. Pitch Black is a beautiful visual story about homelessness and community where a person might not expect it. Finally, Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 is a collection of reflections from a young Japanese man with severe autism. What a haul!
Lawncrest Library exists because its neighborhood(s) fought for it. It might not have the most resources, but it’s clear the community supports the branch, and the branch supports the community. It’s beautiful. Plus, if you’re not sure what to read next, those displays will help you out.
Official JOTR Rating:
That’s it for this tour. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time!
Do you frequent Lawncrest Library? Do you have any hot tips about this location? Let us know in the comments!