Penn Libraries looking for volunteer librarians at Lea School

One of the many casualties of the ongoing financial crisis facing the School District of Philadelphia has been the layoff of librarians and the closure of libraries in many schools.

Central and Masterman high schools—two of the best in the city and state—had to close their libraries because they lacked funding for a librarian before an anonymous person gave a donation to reopen them. Other district schools have not been so lucky.

Lea Elementary School, at 47th and Locust streets in West Philadelphia, had to shutter its library, too, before volunteers at the West Philadelphia Alliance for Children stepped up to operate the library on Wednesdays and Thursdays for kindergarten through second graders. Third through eighth graders do not have library access.

Now, Penn Libraries is working with Lea so the school is able to offer library access to all of its students.

As the community outreach librarian at Penn Libraries—a newly created position—Ancil George is working to expand community engagement efforts and form partnerships with residents and groups in the University’s surrounding neighborhood.

A librarian for 44 years, George is on a mission to open the library at Lea every school day and have it serve all students—and he is asking Penn students, faculty, and staff to volunteer as aides and librarians.

During school hours, volunteers from Penn will help children learn how to select books, use library tools to do research, and search for information online.

Anyone interested in lending a hand can contact George at 215-898-2316 or

Penn’s alliance with Lea began in the 1960s, and the University strengthened ties with the school last year, announcing plans to assist in improving educational experiences at the school.

Through George’s work with Lea students, he hopes to inspire them to learn and eventually go to college.

“A lot of kids think that Penn is not attainable,” he says. “I want them to see that it’s possible for them to come to Penn, or to aim to come to Penn.”

George served as a Penn librarian for nearly half a century and was planning on retiring before Carton Rogers, vice provost and director of Penn Libraries, approached him about taking on the community outreach librarian position.

“What was sort of amazing is that he wanted me to be at the Lea Elementary School library and he didn’t know that was my plan to retire and do that,” George says.

Lea Elementary School