What started with a Penn Libraries program to ensure a West Philadelphia elementary school library would remain open has turned into a sustainable model for service learning. In the two years since creating the Community Outreach Librarian position and the ever expanding Community Outreach Program, the Penn Libraries has increased its contribution to the greater Philadelphia area exponentially—from serving 500 students to nearly 6,000.

Penn Libraries’ engagement with local schools began at the Henry C. Lea Elementary School in West Philadelphia, where Penn volunteers and student workers have helped set up an electronic catalog, staffed library shifts, and maintained a collection replenishing program. Through a relationship with the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children (WePAC), Penn Libraries’ public school engagement has expanded to over a dozen schools, positively impacting the educational experience of at-risk students in the city. New planned partnerships with three additional Philadelphia schools—Southwark School, William L. Sayre High School, and Benjamin B. Comegys School—are on the horizon.

The Penn Libraries is able to sustain its Community Outreach Program through collaborations with local nonprofits and stakeholders on Penn’s campus such as the Netter Center for Community Partnerships. This partnership helps Penn Libraries place student employees and work-study students in local schools, providing opportunities for service learning in mentorship, literacy studies, and librarianship.

“This model is both sustainable and replicable,” says Vice Provost and Director of Libraries H. Carton Rogers. “While we are focused on the particular needs of Philadelphia, our vision is one that expands beyond the city itself,” explains Rogers. Ultimately, Penn Libraries’ hope is that other colleges and universities can replicate this model within their own communities by utilizing on-campus resources and local non-profit organizations.

The University of Pennsylvania remains broadly committed to community outreach across campus. Its goals for engagement are outlined in the university’s current strategic vision, President Amy Gutmann’s Penn Compact 2020: “Penn is engaging locally, nationally, and globally to bring the benefits of Penn’s research, teaching, and service to individuals and communities at home and around the world.” Alongside Gutmann and Penn, Penn Libraries is pleased to do its part in nurturing the lives of readers and learners in Philadelphia and beyond.