For years, all branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia opened on Saturdays during the school year, providing patrons access to computers with internet to prepare resumés, apply for jobs and complete homework; heat in the winter; and safe spaces after school.
But this fall, because of a lack of funding, the system will staff less than half its libraries on Saturdays, its lowest in recent years.
Only 23 of the system's 54 libraries will open on Saturdays — Parkway Central, the three regional libraries, and 19 neighborhood branches.
"As long as funding is inadequate, we cannot hire sufficient staff and will continue to be confronted with this issue," Lynn Williamson, chief of the Free Library's neighborhood library services division, said in a recent interview. "We, and I, strongly believe that every citizen deserves quality library service and we're striving to meet that."
The library system's $48 million budget is supported each year through city and state funding and private donations. But 10 years ago, the system faced massive cuts in city funding and has since struggled to open and staff libraries, officials said.
Williamson said library administrators carefully selected the branches that will open on Saturdays, striving for fairness while making difficult decisions.
Each of the nine neighborhood clusters will now offer either two or three branch openings on Saturdays, but for some, this isn't enough.
A grassroots effort is underway, #FundOurLibraries, calling on city officials to provide more funding.
Michael DiBerardinis, the city's managing director, acknowledged that in 2008, when the Great Recession hit, "everybody got a haircut."
He said some of the funding has come back, but when accounting for inflation, it's still not enough.
In the coming city budget hearings, he said, the administration expects "that the libraries will make their case" for more funding.
City Councilwoman Helen Gym, who tweeted about library finding, said she wants to see all public neighborhood branches fully staffed and open with full hours.
"I'm committed to securing funding to do just that," she said.
"As we continue to reinvest in our communities, we have to recognize that libraries sit at the very center of our civic life, and invest in them that way."
Gym said neighborhood libraries that shut down regularly due to inadequate staffing are "unacceptable" and "worse, this under-funding disproportionately harms the poorer areas of our city, which depend on access to their local libraries the most."
Queen Memorial in Point Breeze is part of #FundOurLibraries effort to secure more funding. The branch is in the library system's South Philadelphia cluster, which offers Saturday service at three branches — all of them more than a mile from Queen Memorial.
After finding out her branch would be closed on Saturdays, all Betty Beaufort could think was "here we go again," she said.
By under-funding the libraries, and taking away Saturday service, "you hurt people," said Beaufort, president of Queen Memorial's Friends Group since 2008. "And the people that they're hurting are the people that can't help themselves.
"Especially the people of color, they seem to always get the short end of the stick," she said.
On Saturdays, patrons have free time to visit the library that they may not have during the week, Beaufort said. "I want the city to stop using money as an excuse," she added. "We're not buying that anymore, because they have money."