The Charles Santore Branch Library in Bella Vista. (Asha Prihar/Billy Penn)

Nine Free Library of Philadelphia branches are adding regular Saturday hours to their schedules starting this weekend, with more projected to do the same in the next several months.

Those neighborhood libraries will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday, and their weekday schedules will remain the same. Eventually, the weekend service will be offered citywide. Library officials plan to add a sixth day to additional locations in waves, as it becomes feasible.

It’s a big deal, said Free Library President and Director Kelly Richards. He described the changes as an exciting “generational advancement” for library services in Philadelphia.

“We’ve been talking to staff and researching our history to determine when that happened last, and we can’t find it,” Richards said at a Wednesday morning celebration of the expansion. “All of the neighborhood library branches will be open on Saturday. So that’s an awesome game changer for the library.”

To start, the branches offering Saturday hours include:

Wyoming Library (231 E. Wyoming Ave.), which is temporarily closed because it’s getting an HVAC replacement, will add Saturday hours when it reopens at the beginning of December.

This first set of libraries to introduce weekend hours includes one branch per council district, per Richards.

“We wanted to hit every community, if at all possible,” he told Billy Penn. “The majority of it had to do with hiring, and where the people went. But we tried to spread it out as evenly and as fairly as we possibly could.”

Hiring will continue to be the determining factor of when the rest of the libraries will join the list. Of 300+ new positions funded by the past two city budgets, Richards estimated that around 250 of those had been filled.

He said the library’s “optimistic goal” for adding Saturday hours everywhere is “some point in January.”

The six-day service is a product of some major funding increases for the library. The current city budget, which took effect in July, dedicated $12.5 million more toward the system than last year’s already-boosted budget did, making for a total allocation of $70.9 million. Mayor Jim Kenney noted at Wednesday’s event that he and City Council have allocated $37 million across five years to make Saturday hours possible.

“These additional hours will give our residents more opportunities to access library resources that educate, entertain, and empower,” Kenney said.

The new weekend hours are one of several changes that have been made at the Free Library recently. Earlier this fall, the library system standardized its schedules across the city, putting each neighborhood branch on one of two different schedules. It also reintroduced some evening hours at the Parkway Central branch, which hadn’t been in place since before the COVID pandemic.

The system tested the waters on Saturday hours earlier this year. 10 library branches — one in each council district — offered them during the spring and summer months, staffed by library workers who’d volunteered to work overtime.

But it’s been years since any Free Library branches have been able to operate on the weekends on a regular basis — some locations have even struggled to keep up with their regularly scheduled weekday hours. The COVID pandemic was a huge blow to a system that had already been struggling, but things have been slowly recovering.

The expansion of hours to weekends, Richards said, “gives us an opportunity to provide a level of programming, to provide a level of engagement to the communities, that we haven’t been able to do in a very, very long time.”

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...