Free Library President Named "Librarian of the Year"

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Joe McGee, for GPA -- Library Journal has named President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, Siobhan A. Reardon, its 2015 Librarian of the Year. Given every year, the award honors individuals who use their position as librarians to transform their community as well as the profession. Reardon’s work turning a library system with limited resources into a flourishing community center has earned her the recognition of Library Journal.

Mayor Michael Nutter said Reardon is responsible for the vision and positive change of the Free Library in recent years.

“[She] has been a steadfast, innovative leader for the Free Libra4y during the last seven years,” said Nutter. “Last September, I was proud to join her for the announcement that the William Penn Foundation will give $25 million to the Free Library of Philadelphia – the largest private gift ever received by the Free Library – signaling the reinvigoration of a great urban library system through new ideas and City investment of tax dollars. I am very proud that Siobhan has earned this tremendous recognition from her peers across the country. I look forward to working with her to continue to improve libraries services for all Philadelphians in 2015.”

Reardon joined the Free Library in 2008 as the first woman to hold the position of President and Director. Overseeing the 61-location system, Reardon hit the ground running with a five year strategic plan for a library system plagued with budget issues and necessary staff reductions. Reardon’s plan to change the design and function of libraries to suit the direct needs of the community proved to be widely successful.

With physical renovations to a number of locations, Reardon’s organizational restructuring of her staff of 800 proved to increase efficiency and result in the creation of new positions, all while increasing customer satisfaction.

In her interview with Library Journal, Reardon said that it is her ambition and willingness to challenge the status quo that helped her vision to succeed.

“I like big ideas … I like a willingness to take risks. We have adopted a philosophy around risk,” said Reardon.

She applied this determination to staffing as well. “I look for people with that real understanding that our work is in the community and is not that kind of passive work we’ve been doing for so long,” said Reardon.

In her efforts to promote the Free Library of Philadelphia as a sound community center for each neighborhood, Reardon keyed in on what people want from their libraries. She and her team identified target populations to which they would gear their programs and offerings. This cluster system has proven successful, with large amounts of fundraising and support from other community members and organizations the result of Reardon’s work.

Reardon has taken the library’s mission of advancing literacy, guiding learning and inspiring curiosity outside the walls of the library with the implementation of internet “hot spots” to help bridge the digital divide. By partnering with local organizations, these “techmobiles” offer free internet access to library materials to people in underserved locations. The Free Library of Philadelphia has also partnered with the Philadelphia International Airport, offering travelers free Wi-Fi in addition to library resources.

“I’m proudest that I came out the other side after a difficult two and a half years,” Reardon said. “Once we had the strategic plan in place life became fun. Now that it is all coming to pass it is exciting.”

An article on Reardon’s award appears in the cover story of Library Journal’s January issue and can be found online.

Image courtesy of Philly.com.