Giving Old Books a New Life

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia held open collage hours for local residents.

Tess Galen cuts a piece of a magazine for her collage. | NOEL CHACKO / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Light shone through grand windows at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia on Saturday as local residents flipped through pages of magazines and old books to cut out pieces they could add to their collages. 

The Athenaeum, a library in Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood, keeps old magazines for collaging events, as well as old books that would otherwise be thrown away, said Tess Galen, administrative and events assistant at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia. Participants used these materials to create their collages on the second floor of the 19th-century building on March 26.

Galen said the collaging event was organized because parents showed interest during Story Explorers Book Fest, an event held at the Athenaeum for young readers.

“We thought, why not every couple of weeks bring people in to do some collaging?” Galen said. “So it’s different for us, but it’s not complicated.”

The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, founded in 1814, provides access to books, archival material and special collections for research. The space is also used for exhibits, public forums and lectures.

“Our members pay yearly dues to use our services, which mainly include our circulation collection and our events,” Galen said. “I think because it’s older than the Free Library, it’s an important part of the sort of educational aspect, the history of the city.”

The building was declared a National Historical Landmark in 1977 and hosts events for book tours, guided tours, public forums and more. 

“This is a wonderful treasure of the city,” said Belinda Huang, a Center City resident who works as a higher education consultant. “There are people that I’ve spoken to that have lived here for years and don’t know about it. So I think it’s great to be able to support this cultural institution.”

Many members of the Athenaeum are older so they haven’t been comfortable going to events due to COVID-19 concerns, Galen said. Half of the institution’s events are in person while the remaining half are hosted virtually on Zoom. The collage event was a way to attract people back to the building.

“When I came in, I just thought, this is such a beautiful space,” Huang said. “All the architecture, the sculptures. It’s just wonderful to work in a space that is so pretty.”

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