School Talk: Southwark Elementary working to reboot library

Editor’s Note: School Talk is an occasional feature that will look at education and parenting issues in South Philly. If you have concerns, ideas, suggested topics or other thoughts about the state of schools and ways to keep improving them, email us at

Weighing in this time is Becky Toner, a member of the East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association’s education committee. To get involved with the committee or at Southwark, email

Volunteers and students sort books on MLK Day.
Volunteers and students sort books on MLK Day. Pic from EPX education committee’s Facebook page

Because of well-publicized, districtwide budget cuts, Southwark Elementary hasn’t had a librarian in more than two years, but thanks to the efforts of a collaboration of volunteers, the library is again seeing new life.

The library at Southwark, a K-8 school at 9th & Mifflin (find your catchment here), is a big, beautiful room filled with natural sunlight and hundreds of books. Without a librarian, however, the library has not been in operation for the students.

Beth Dougherty, chair of the EPX education committee, hopes to change that by enlisting volunteers from the committee, Philadelphia RSVP (a volunteer engagement program for adults 55 and older), and the neighboring community to finish organizing donated books, update the card catalog, and ultimately serve as part-time volunteer librarians.

The work has already begun. On Martin Luther King Day, volunteers from Friends Select School, East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association Education Committee and Philadelphia RSVP came together to spruce up some areas of Southwark. The 60+ volunteers painted the school auditorium, baseboard trim and stair risers and organized boxes of donated books and other areas of the school library.

RSVP had provided a volunteer prior to MLK day who created a map to organize the library. On the day of service, Friends Select librarians added to the organization by establishing a coding system to effectively sort the donated books.

“The work that the volunteers did today was incredible,” Doughtery said. “We’re so excited to help get Southwark’s library open again and we can’t do that without amazing people like those who were here today.”

“Today was successful on so many fronts,” said Principal Andrew Lukov (find more about him here). “Our school got some needed love and care, and our students are going to get access to a resource that is sitting there waiting for them. I am hopeful that we can open these library doors as soon as possible.”

Southwark’s library can only get up and running again with help and generosity from our community. The goal is to have the library functioning a minimum of a few days a week by the start of the next school year, which will be here before you know it.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Beth Dougherty at Even an hour or two of time would be a great help!

– Becky Toner, Education committee, @EPCrossing