If you live in/around/about Olney

It took me a while to notice that the little boy was following me around. It was a Saturday morning. I was tutoring a fourth grader at Olney Library. We were reading a book in the Arthur series. She was struggling. In the middle of a page, she stopped at a word. A little voice piped in behind our heads. “Realize,” he said. “It’s ‘realize.’”

We were polite. We thanked him. He never left. Even after I explained to him that I was working and that it would be better if the girl learned to read on her own. He sat at the table next to us, pulled out his backpack and began some schoolwork, all the while never taking his eyes off us.

I grew irritated. Other students came. And went. He remained seated.

Finally, after the last student left, thirty minutes before the library was to close, he came over. “Can you help me with my homework?” I sighed. I was tired. It was a Saturday. Outside the sun was shining. I had done my share of teaching. “Why don’t you ask your parents for help?” I asked him. “They don’t speak English, ” he said.

He’s in third grade. He came from West Africa. He likes doing schoolwork. He had been waiting from 11AM for me to finish so that I could help him. I did. At 4:30.

The next Saturday, he was there again. He is there every Saturday the library is open. He’s not the only one. There are others that follow me around. I can’t always help all of them. There’s simply not enough time.

On Saturdays that the library is closed, I wonder where those kids are. What they’re doing. I can imagine them struggling to finish their work. Without computers. Without a librarian. Without parents. And then I can imaging them giving up.  I thought I understood how the library system worked in Philly. I was wrong. It took six months of sitting in a library, Saturday after Saturday to understand how people use library services.

Budget cuts. A librarian gone. Olney needs a Friends group.

Won’t you join us?

Wednesday, May 13


Featuring Amy Dougherty, Executive Director of the Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia

5th Street & Tabor Avenue


7 responses to “If you live in/around/about Olney

  1. I think the word “bittersweet” must have been created just to describe this story. I also think a place in heaven (or whatever blissful afterlife you might happen to believe in) is currently being secured.

  2. Hey, now. I’m no angel. I only help those who help themselves :P

  3. Heaven (“or whatever blissful afterlife you might happen to believe in”), forbid I would ever imply that you’re an “angel.” I’m just guessing there’s room enough there for a few faux angels who, “only help those who help themselves.” And, heaven, etc., etc., can always use someone who can handle quotation marks the way you do in that last sentence of the first paragraph of your original story. I am impressed!

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