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In Library News: Rosenbach to surrender to Free Library?

Posted April 17th, 2013
Rosenbach and its historical marker.

Rosenbach and its historical marker.

In the exciting and faced paced world of library news, a shocker came out today as reported by Philadelphia Inquirer Classical Music Critic Peter Dorbin that the Free Library would take over the operations at the Rosenbach  “under the terms of a letter of intent  approved Tuesday by their boards.”

The Rosenbach has been around since 1954, but according to Dorbin’s article, they are getting tired of having to raise so much of their budget each year and believe the development services of the Philadelphia Library Foundation will make life easier, and of course they have some complimentary collections, as most libraries are wont to have. Dorbin points out, “What is definite is that the Rosenbach will not alter its operation in a way the public would notice except for a change in signage, and to the extent that its collections and other materials would have a much wider audience in generous display spaces at the Free Library’s central library.” Not sure how definitive that “definite” claim could possibly be, but I read that as both parties wanted to assuage the fears of the opposition and lovers of the Rosenbach.

Because as non-drama as the article makes Rosenbach’s capitulation seem to be, you can be sure there was a lot of behind-the-scenes drama, perhaps even a battle of literary quotes to bring a point home. Dorbin is right to report that the trend in big nonprofit institutions acquiring smaller nonprofit institutions is likely to continue, but I don’t believe this makes nearly the sense that Drexel acquiring the Academy of Natural Sciences did, which is on a much larger scale, and both acquired major assets the other did not have. Unless they were terrible libraries, it seems impossible for one library’s collection not to help complete another’s. Also since they’re within 15 minutes walking distance, it’s not like they don’t compliment each other already (or have impediments to working together should they want to). It’s hard to argue programmatic advantages that would be unique to a merger, especially since they will continue to be administered basically as separate organizations.

Visitors pretend to read books at the Rosenbach.

Visitors pretend to read books at the Rosenbach.

Being all about the money may prove to be problematic for both institutions. In the end, it will really about how the Free Library engages with the city on a broader scale. Will it be like Fairmount Park, used by all in various forms with a large variety of favorite spots, or Pennypack? (I know, ridiculous analogy.)

Read the complete article here, and try your hand at reading between the lines. One thing that would be nice to come of it would be FREE admission to the Rosenbach, though that’s never mentioned. Still, if the Rosenbach needed to do this in order to function as a museum and library, and not as a place always desperate to raise funds for the year, this may ultimately benefit the quality of the institution. Just keep an eye on the positions they are hiring in the future, and you should be able to figure out the answer to that one.

–Said Johnson