Friends Announce Fall 2019 Speaker Series

Decoding the Cyber War

Heroes & Villains in Chestnut Hill

What's in your DNA? What's not?


Tuesday, October 1 at 1:30 a.m.

What's in your DNA? What's not?

Heroes & Villains in Chestnut Hill

What's in your DNA? What's not?


Tuesday, October 15 at 1:30 p.m.

Heroes & Villains in Chestnut Hill

Heroes & Villains in Chestnut Hill

Heroes & Villains in Chestnut Hill


Tuesday, October 29 at 1:30 p.m.

Why did Finland's Jews Survive?

Railroads: defining our Communities

Heroes & Villains in Chestnut Hill


Wednesday, October 30 at 1:30 p.m.

Railroads: defining our Communities

Railroads: defining our Communities

Railroads: defining our Communities


Tuesday, November 12 at 1:30 p.m.

Beyond Chestnut Hill's Water Tower

Railroads: defining our Communities

Railroads: defining our Communities


Tuesday, November 26 at 1:30 p.m.

Friends speaker series begins with sell-out crowd

"Discover Philadelphia's Great Trees" was a virtual sell-out

More than 100 neighbors attended the "Discover Philadelphia's Great Trees" presentation authors Ned Barnard and Catriona Briger. Afterward, pleased to have learned so much, most folks lingered for hot cider, cookies and friendly conversation.

It was an auspicious event, like an opening kickoff, or the top of the first inning. Our public media center, the branch library on Germantown Avenue, opened the community room for the first presentation to take place there since the drop-down projection screen broke years ago. 


More Presentations Follow - on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m.

January 22nd, Cyber Age Politics and News Industry Reform. 

Local author Stan Cutler will give  a talk about how the FCC changed the rules and changed democracy in the process.  Stan is the author of a book on Philadelphia political conventions and six novels. He was a member of Penn State's Communications faculty and currently teaches courses on politics, rhetoric and media at nearby lifelong learning centers. 

January 29th, Civil War Medicine: What Went Right.
The extraordinary levels of battlefield carnage during the Civil War demanded a new, scientific approach to medicine – previously an art. Documentary film maker Carole Adrienne presents a compelling slide show from the 4-part series she is developing for PBS to premier on WHYY.

February 5th, Chimpanzees, Jane and Me
Scientist Bill Konstant tells stories about training chimpanzees in America, being inspired by the work of Dr. Jane Goodall, and helping to ensure the survival of chimpanzees in their native Africa.  He shares insights from a forty-year career as a wildlife preservationist on four continents – personal experiences with the world’s most endangered and interesting animals.


Friends of CH Library: We, the Users

Published in The Chestnut Hill Local

November 30, 2018

by Stan Cutler

Those of us who grew up in Philadelphia used the Free Library system a lot. Before there were so much media clamoring for our attention, we had a robust media infrastructure that was integral to our community. But it was communal – not commercial. It was free, it was ours and it did an amazing job.

The Library was like our Internet, where we physically (not virtually) went for entertainment and enlightenment – a place to and from which we walked with pounds of books. We were hooked on the library — in no small measure because we had to keep going back to return the books. What a gimmick. We live in a different age.

“The mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia is to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity. Its vision is to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.”

Here’s a bit of irony: I downloaded the FLP’s mission statement (above) while in my snug office on Highland Avenue. It took me 30 seconds to type “FLP Philadelphia mission” into a Google search and copy the results from the FLP home page. Ta-dah! Back in the day, I would have had to walk to the library and look it up.

Please notice that the word “book” does not appear in the statement. We keep the books because they are a terrific medium of communication, superior to electronic media in many ways. But there are other ways the FLP’s resources can be used “to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.”

Let’s be loud and energetic advocates for the Free Library of Philadelphia in general and for our Chestnut Hill branch in particular. Let’s do so because we love books and because we are advocates for learning, literacy, curiosity, and because we want to live in a community devoted to lifelong learning.

When you think of the great building on the 8700 block of the Avenue, understand that it is not just a valuable book collection. Much more should happen there if it is to fulfill its purpose. We will use this column to put forward your ideas (and mine) about how we can energize the library, rejuvenate it as a public media center with a communal, enlightened mission.

What does that mean? What’s a public media center? How does it work? Our library is unusual because it has a spacious community room that is unused most of the time. Should it be an adult education center? Should it send as well as receive? Can it be used to learn technology? Is it a podcast site? Is it a classroom or a lecture hall? Is it all of these or none of these? I think it’s up to us to decide. That’s, in part, what these essays are about.

The Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library welcome your ideas at


Friends of CH Library: Our Assets

Published in The Chestnut Hill Local

November 30, 2018

by Stan Cutler

Let’s focus on two exceptional Chestnut Hill assets: 1) the people of our community and 2) the branch library on Germantown Avenue. We achieve a beneficial synergy that enhances the value of both when the two are merged. How do we do this?

What makes us exceptional? Are we not the same as every other citizen of Philadelphia? Yes. Like everyone else, we care about our families, work hard, root for our teams. Like everyone else, we pay the bills, manage our emotions, deal with health problems, worry about crime and decadence and selfish politicians. In the most important sense, our humanity, we are exactly like everyone else. But we are, in general, better educated than folks in most communities.

Here’s a comparison of education attainment in Chestnut Hill as compared to the city as a whole:

Chestnut Hill education – Out of 6,363 households

  • No high school – 2%
  • Some high school – 2%
  • Some college – 13%
  • Associate degree – 6%
  • Bachelor’s degree – 35%
  • Graduate degree – 42%

Philadelphia total education – Out of 648,151 households

  • No high school – 10%
  • Some high school – 22%
  • Some college – 25%
  • Associate degree – 8%
  • Bachelor’s degree – 20%
  • Graduate degree – 14%
  • (Info from

The largest group of adults in Chestnut Hill are people with graduate degrees. So what?

Many of us have time on our hands. Some are retired. Some work part of the time. We are a community of talented, experienced, well-educated people. We, the Chestnut Hill Library Friends, believe these assets can be put to good use. We are talking to you.

Are you an educator, either active or retired, who wants to give a lecture on the most important things you know? Are you a creative professional, a writer or artist, who wants to share your work? Are you a business professional who has learned secrets of success that you think everyone ought to know? Are you an expert on a fascinating topic? Are you none of these but have ideas worth sharing? Package your ideas (i.e., presentation, lecture, demo, talk) and deliver it at the library at 1:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon.

We, the Chestnut Hill Library Friends, will be hosting a regular program in which local folks deliver their best ideas to their neighbors. We are looking for people to fill our schedule. This is a call for proposals. Send your idea to


The most valuable real estate in Chestnut Hill

Published in The Chestnut Hill Local

November 21, 2018

by Stan Cutler

Not For Sale: Top of the Hill property on the 8700 block of Germantown Avenue. It’s a single-floor building with 20-foot ceilings and more than 3,000square feet of hardwood floor. The interior has beautiful natural light from enormous mullioned windows. The place was built in 1909 and has been regularly upgraded and carefully maintained. What’s it worth?

The property comes with a few extras. A 1980s addition, paid for with donations from the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, features a spacious community room that is unused most of the time. We, the folks who live in Chestnut Hill, could use it as a forum. We could take and offer courses on fascinating subjects. It would be a non-political, non-commercial space where we could be at our best. How much is a place like that worth?

Smart phone technologies – portable internet in our pockets – have been infused into our society as profoundly as books. The free public library was once used like the internet is used in the 21st Century. The library didn’t do some things nearly as well as the internet. The internet retrieves stuff so much faster, forcing us to absorb information far more rapidly and in smaller chunks. Haste makes waste. The library’s operating system, its infrastructure, functions differently. In so doing it adds value to mindful experiences. What’s that kind of infrastructure worth?

You cannot put a price on the library because it is far more than real estate. Its enormous value is not mercenary. It cannot be privatized. Privatization is the scourge of public service and good government. Schools, hospitals, clinics – all offloaded to the faster-better-cheaper crowd. I abhor the privatization of schools. I worry about the libraries. The City Government, budget after budget, feels pressure to cut the funding. We understand. But…

We, the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, are advocates for the Free Library system founded by Benjamin Franklin. We will also be heard. We argue for more funding. We argue for improvements. We argue on behalf of our American heritage.

You can join us at


Libraries are an essential part of our way of life

Published in The Chestnut Hill Local

October 15, 2018

Why I Joined Up.

Our library is a beautiful, iconic place on the 8700 hundred block of the avenue. I was there last week when a whole bunch of second-graders from Jenks School walked in through the front door. They were quiet, as if in church, marching in single file, wide-eyed and well-behaved, around the checkout desk, through the collection, past the computer workstations, to the Community Room way in the back, where Cynthia and Alyssa Kreilick would read aloud from their illustrated book.  

Some neighbors had persuaded me to go to an evening meeting of Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library. The morning the kids showed up, a few days later, I was wondering whether I was wasting my time. I was at the library for a follow-up chat with folks who want to persuade the Mural Arts Society to decorate a wall. And then the kids came in and reminded me. If the library fails, our American community loses a vital organ. Preserving the library, honoring its purpose, making it better as America evolves, are efforts worthy of my time and yours.  

I felt a joy as the children filed by, all clean and tidy and serious-faced, so beautiful, our future. At the library, we are on our very, very best behavior. To be in such a wonderful place is our right. And it is a privilege that we honor lest we be un-welcome there. I needed to be reminded.

I lead a seminar group focused on media and politics. We discuss how the ways we communicate influence how we vote, the news we seek, and the state of our culture. A historian in the room told us a surprising fact about literacy in America; we were once the most literate country on the planet. Common Sense, read by half the American colonial population, summarized in the Declaration of Independence, was a hot spark of the Revolution. Uncle Tom’s Cabin energized caring Americans and legitimized the Civil War for universal freedom. Our Presidents were enlightened men who regarded love of knowledge as proof of character. We are Americans because we can read. America is America because of the written word.

The tides of technology and economics are relentless. Our public schools, community newspapers, and public libraries anchor us to our finest heritage. In the 21st Century, libraries, public schools and newspapers are threatened as never before. We have a duty to do whatever we can to empower the institutions of literacy, to stand for them against the tides.

Another idea I heard at the meeting was to place a regular column of library news in the Chestnut Hill Local.  As you can see, the editors and publisher have agreed. This is the first installment. We will keep you posted about what folks like us are doing.  

The title of Cynthia and Alyssa Kreilick’s book is “Lucha And Lola”. As the kids filed quietly out to return to Jenks, I could tell that they’d had a great lesson. (By the way, of 220 Philadelphia public schools, only 8 have Librarians. Jenks is not one of them.)

Hill resident Stan Cutler is a member of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library Friends.  He's also a novelist who has written political opinions for the Local in the past.


frineds of the chestnut hill library News Releases


LEAP Scarecrow Entry in Morris Arboretum Contest


October | Chestnut Hill Library’s LEAP (Literacy Enrichment After School Program) was off to an exciting start with our entry into the Morris Arboretum’s Decorate the Scarecrow contest. 

A collaboration of LEAP staff creating the scarecrow (After School Leader Marlene Sider, Teen Leaders Charlotte Fox and Natia Anthony), Friends of the CH Library funding the scarecrow and delivering materials (President Phyllis Donahue), and CH Children’s & Supervising Librarian Prather O’Donnell initiating the project and then delivering the scarecrow to the Arboretum.

In this photograph, courtesy of TLA Charlotte Fox,(from left to right) are participants Khalid Aljadaani, Raneem  Aljadaani, Chip Amuso, Finn Amuso, and Elijah Museau, with ASL Marlene Sider. Participants not pictured are Matt Gallagher, Mimi Gallagher, and Grace Remus. 

Check out our scarecrow, Bookworm Father Bob (complete with handmade book and LEAP backpack), along with other entries at the Morris Arboretum through October 31st. Scary!


New Board Members Photo

New Board members elected to Chestnut Hill Library Friends are (from left) Ashley Brenner, Karen Freedman, Ann Marie Arment, Lindsey Pennington, Jan LeSuer, Phyllis Donahue, President of the Friends Board, Stan Cutler, and Prather O’Donnell, Library Branch Manager.  Missing from the photo is Ilene Blain. All have been elected to a two-year term.

Chestnut Hill Friends Organization Elects New Board Members; New Era Begins for Library

September 17, 2018

On Monday, September 17, seven new members were elected to the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library for two-year terms.  This move expands the Board from its current 10 to 17 members.

The Friends are a voluntary, non-profit organization with the mission of promoting the needs of the Library’s patrons and expanding utilization of its facilities.

New members on the Board are Ann Marie Arment, Ilene Blain, Ashley Brenner, Stan Cutler, Karen Freedman, Jan LeSuer and Lindsey Pennington. All have been elected to a two-year term and will serve on various committees.

“Over the years we’ve provided funding for the community room and the garden,” said Phyllis Donahue, President of the Friends. “We have sponsored programs for adults and children, paid for magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and even helped furnish the library.  But we are planning for increased activity and support.”

The organization is quick to recognize that the Free Library of Philadelphia does a great job of expanding use of the library system and has been a leader in establishing “21st Century Libraries.” However, in recent years, the FLP System has experienced budget reductions that have contributed to staff shortages, causing occasional and unexpected, daily branch closings.

Prather O’Donnell, Chestnut Hill Branch Manager and Children’s Librarian, relies on the Friends Organization to help fund programs like the successful summer reading program for kids.

“Without the Friends Group,” said O’Donnell, “we wouldn’t be able to host our popular ‘Playgroup for Infants & Toddlers’ or have supplies and snacks for the regular Thursday ‘Build It! Club.’ But the role of the Friends Group is more crucial than ever – for support needed to advocate for full funding to be restored to our city’s public library system.”  

“The library does a great job of providing programs for children and families,” said Board member Lyn Buchheit, “but we seem to fall short on Adult Programs – we have been functioning without an Adult Librarian for over a year now.  Frankly, I think the Friends are in a great position to bring more neighbors into the library, and to take more of our library to the community.”

“The Friend Organization’s fundraising, primarily the weekly used book sale and membership drives, means our community is helping us supplement our Library in a number of ways – from paying for newspaper and magazine subscriptions to buying furniture for the Library atrium, and by installing a kitchen in the basement for use by the staff and for potential programs,” said treasurer Mike Henry.

Bringing on new Board Members, with diverse interests, experience and skills is seen by current Board Members as an important step into the future.

Stan Cutler, a local author and newly elected Board member said, "I have a romantic notion of libraries. To me, they are an essential element of The Enlightenment, no less than universities, public schools and democratic elections. As "content" increasingly takes the place of books in our culture, we weaken the intellectual foundations of American democracy. I hope we, as Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, can find ways remind the community of the vital role of books in our lives by providing more exciting and relevant services."

“We are getting ready for our Fall Book Sale, which takes place at the Library during the Chestnut Hill Fall for the Arts Festival on September 30th,” added Renee Polsky, a board member who helped organize the Gently Used Books Sale in 1995, “it not only gives us a chance to sell books for prices affordable to most people. Most books are twenty-five cent to $1 – and it is a great way to meet people in our community.”  

Additional members of the Friends Board are Beth Bartle, Lyn Buchheit, Carol Duncan, Joanne Dhody, Phyllis Donahue, Prather O’Donnell, Mike Henry, Renee Polsky, Carol Romsloe, and Marlene Sider.

For more information about the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, contact the Friends at

From the Chestnut Hill Local

Book sale is alive and well at Chestnut Hill Library

Posted on May 31, 2018 by Pete Mazzaccaro

In last week’s paper, we published a letter and a column – the latter by regular columnist Janet Gilmore – about the seemingly sad state of library book sales, both here in Chestnut Hill and “abroad” (Abington Library was the subject of Gilmore’s column).

Library-run used book sales are a staple of both library fundraising efforts and of the bibliophiles and book collectors who enjoy perusing the well-worn boxes and shelves of old hardcovers and quality paperbacks in the hope of finding a bargain.

In the case of Chestnut Hill’s book sale, word was that the library staff was going to get rid of the sale all together – an idea that was justifiably called ‘idiotic’ if it were so.

Turns out, Chestnut Hill’s book sale is going nowhere.

Prather O’Donnell, the recently promoted head librarian at the Chestnut Hill branch – a Chestnut Hill native who regularly used the library as an adolescent – told me this week that the library has absolutely no plans of reducing the book sale. It will continue to both take book donations and offer its large stock of books for sale to the public every Monday from 1 to 5 p.m.

“We really appreciate that this sale has been around for so long,” O’Donnell said. “It’s given us so much in terms of funding.”

The book sale, which is managed not by library staff but by the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, provides funding for all of O’Donnell’s children’s and adult programming. It pays for Lego clubs, an upcoming Minecraft club, author speaker series, etc. And when the library needs something like a replacement vacuum cleaner or a new faucet in the staff room, it can turn to the book sale funds for quick relief, rather than go through a lengthy request process through the city.

Not only does the library have no plans of stopping the book sale, O’Donnell said the she and the Friends have been discussing the possibility of expanding the sale for Wednesday night sidewalk sales to get the book sale outside and be part of Wednesday night business activities on the Avenue.

We were thinking we could make it a party,” O’Donnell said.

It’s not a bad idea at all. More people should know about the library’s Book Sale and consider patronizing it, through donations or, better yet, by purchasing books.

One issue with donating books, O’Donnell said, and perhaps part of the issue some patrons had with the library, is that the library’s staff cannot accept book donations. Those transactions, she said, must be completed by a Friends of the Library volunteer, in no small part to prevent people from simply dumping water-damaged and otherwise worthless books.

The idea behind donating books should be in no small part that they have value and can therefore earn money for the library.

So be sure to visit the library on Monday afternoons if you have the time. You’ll never know what you’ll find. It’s a good chance to support one of the neighborhood’s most important institutions.


Contact the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library


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