Siobhan Reardon is a literacy advocate. After moving from New York City – where she worked at the New York Public Library System in the mid-80s and then the Brooklyn Public Library – she came to the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Now, Reardon actively engages with the challenge of combating the literacy epidemic in Philadelphia. She said she is on a mission to close media literacy gaps, and bring people into important conversations that ultimately lead to solutions. In 2008, Reardon was appointed the president and director of the FLP system. She is its seventh president, and the first woman in 114 years to hold the position.
Since joining the FLP system, Reardon has lead the development of the library’s digital media. The transformations taking place within the FLP system are the beginning to ending the literacy crisis in Philadelphia, and Reardon has played a prime role in creating them.
The Temple News: What does it mean to you to be the first woman in 114 years to hold the title of president and executive director of the Free Library system?
Siobhan Reardon: The glass ceiling has been broken. It’s [also] important to recognize that librarianship is largely a female profession and women are quite capable of handling the “big” job.
TTN: Why does the word ‘feminism’ sometimes have a negative connotation?
SR: I see feminism as an empowering word. I think it’s wrong that we are taught it’s a dirty word. I take feminism as you have to have women in strong roles, because you have to have women as equalizers. Feminism is a profound word that I hope impacts not only women, but people in general and what they want to do for their community as a whole.
TTN: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
SR: We get to reflect on the significant roles of women in the development of this country. The women’s history movement is important to the work of women today. It is important that we understand that this movement is more collective than we really think. It is important that we reflect on women and their deliverance to this country. All of these women who came before us had to break through glass ceilings.
TTN: What do you think the solution to the Philadelphia literacy crisis is?
SR: We have to stop talking, do something about the problem and move on it. We have 60,000 children in our education system. The success of the child and the power of the family are very important. There are multiple parts to solving this problem, but I think we first have to put the money where we are talking.
TTN: Why did you come to the Free Library of Philadelphia?
SR: I was working in the New York Public Library system in the mid-‘80s, and there was a huge transformation taking place in the New York system. I began to look at the Philadelphia Public Library system and realized they were going through this same transformation, as most large urban areas at the time were. “A Prayer for the City” by Buzz Bissinger really encouraged me to be a part of this change. There was a job opening in the FLP system and I immediately applied for the job. There is so much potential for this city, it cannot be compared to any other.
TTN: Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
SR: That’s a long way from now, but I definitely see myself where I am now. I see this as a place I want to be, there is so much going on here. I have seen technology transform this library system. The library has a relationship with the community, and serves as a community anchor in this relationship.
– Priscilla Ward