The tireless 89 year old behind Roxborough's literacy programs and archival treasures
Sylvia Myers is not only a longtime friend of the Roxborough branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia; she is a friend of children, of literacy, and of her community’s history.
At 89 years old, Myers serves as the treasurer of the Friends of the Roxborough Library as well as a lead volunteer in the library’s archival room that houses historic information about the city’s rich culture.
“I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a member of the library,” said Myers, recounting the many positions she’s held and the transformations she’s seen in the Philadelphia public library system. Beginning in the sixth grade, she volunteered with librarians, arranging books with the Dewey Decimal system of classification. When she learned of the decision to equip all Catholic schools with their own library, Myers underwent the necessary training to serve as the former St. Lucy’s Catholic School’s librarian in Manayunk. There, she felt obligated to help with her students’ success in literacy.
“For 16 years, I saw how reading could help students,” Myers remembers. “I knew [reading] would serve them later in their life and I encouraged them to continue to learn.”
In order to instill a love of reading, Myers facilitated “Preschool Story Time”, a program that still occurs weekly at the Roxborough Library. Myers promoted the program and made certain that the environment was friendly and welcoming for the children in attendance.
Joseph Paradin, who served 12 years as the Roxborough Library branch head, remembers Myers coming to decorate the reading room to look like a tree house.
“I remember she’d promote the idea to the community and recruit volunteers, but she also came in to beautify the environment herself, adorning branches of the felt tree that lines the walls,” Paradin recalls.
Myers’ late husband Nicholas was also a great friend of the Roxborough Library, volunteering with the library’s archival room. When he passed, Myers decided to honor him by taking over his volunteer work with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. She realized the treasures that exist in the library’s historic archives and took on the project of establishing the first picture book of Roxborough city history. Most of the work establishing the book occurred in Myers' home.
“My house was like Grand Central Station,” Myers recalls, “we gathered pictures and city history, some that date back to 1864.”
Today, Myers volunteers at the archival room at the Roxborough Library, informing residents about the history of their homes and neighborhood.
“I’m here if anyone needs help,” she said.
Her co-workers say that she is dedicated to supporting the library in every way that she can.
“When the Roxborough Library had our grand reopening in 1998 after years of renovation, she baked refreshments, picked bouquets of flowers from her own garden for decoration and manned the doors to welcome people,” Paradin remembers.
Irene Klemas, children’s librarian at the Roxborough Library had similar experiences.
“I never have to come to her; Sylvia always asks me if there’s any way she can help when there are events for children," she said. "I can always expect a plate of freshly baked cookies that she made when the kids arrive.”
Today, in addition to serving in the Roxborough Library’s archival room, Myers runs the annual Mr. Nick essay contest with support from the North Light Community Center. The contest rewards students from eighth to twelfth grade who write essays about historic events and people in Philadelphia's 21st ward. She also plays an active role in Journey’s Way, a resource organization for senior citizens.
With all of her contributions to the Roxborough community, Myers’ message to the public is one of thanks.
“I do this work because I love people, especially the people here at the Roxborough Library. We have such kind, beautiful people here that make this work enjoyable.”
The Roxborough branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia is located on Ridge Avenue.