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September 06, 2020

Free Library of Philadelphia taps interim director

Leslie Walker will now be in charge of the city’s public library system

Appointments Free Library of Philadelphia
Free Library Philadelphia Thom Carroll/For PhillyVoice

The Free Library of Philadelphia expects to find a permanent director within the next 6-12 months.

The Free Library of Philadelphia has appointed Leslie Walker as interim director of the city’s public library system.

Walker, who has served as the Free Library’s chief of staff since joining the organization in 2017, received unanimous approval from the Board of Trustees.

Walker’s selection came after a month-long search process conducted by a committee consisting of Free Library staff, trustees, foundation board members, and a city representative.

Walker will serve in the role until the appointment of a new director of the Free Library. The search process is underway and expected to take 6-12 months.

“I am honored to have been named Interim Director, and I look forward to working with staff to ensure we focus on the health and safety of our staff and everyone in this city who relies on the Library for all of the vital resources we provide, while viewing all of our work through a lens of diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Walker said. 

“This is a new chapter for the Library and I will move forward with great deliberation and transparency.”

Walker became the Free Library’s emergency interim director in July. Her work has consisted of visiting multiple library branches per week, managing and directing Free Library operations, and opening libraries to the public with an emphasis on the health and safety of customers and staff.

Walker has also been working with the School District of Philadelphia and other city officials to establish student access centers.

As chief of staff, Walker has been responsible for the establishment of diversity, equity, and inclusion work through the Board of Trustees committee and the staff DEI committee.

She also has represented the Free Library on the city’s racial equity and human resources policy teams, as well as provided management oversight of leadership through communications, customer service, and coordinating relations between the library and city officials.

Before coming to the Free Library, Walker spent her career in the non-profit sector across the Philly region. She specifically worked with organizations involved with children’s services and community development, such as the Please Touch Museum.

Walker holds a Bachelor of Arts in Urban Studies and Sociology from Rutgers University and a Master of Science in Training and Organizational Development from Saint Joseph’s University.

“At this time, the Free Library of Philadelphia needs a leader who can listen and hear, who can ensure continued operations of the Free Library with a safety focus, and someone who can bring stakeholders together.,” said Board of Trustees Chair Pamela Dembe. “We are pleased to present Leslie as this leader.”

Walker’s appointment comes after former Free Library director and president Siobhan Reardon stepped down in July after leading the city’s public library system for 12 years. Reardon’s resignation came amid accusations of workplace discrimination and racial inequality.

Black library workers detailed their concerns in an open letter posted online in late June. They called out workplace racism, income and job disparities, and a lack of COVID-19 protections for Black workers, who are more likely to become sick or die from the virus. 

Additionally, the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the largest trade union of public employees in the United States, launched a "vote of no confidence" petition criticizing Reardon and the board of trustees. 

The petition claimed "insufficient action of this administration concerning racism," citing the open letter from Black workers. Nearly 2,000 union members and other supporters signed the petition.

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