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Pew Announces $1.85M to Strengthen the Free Library of Philadelphia and Improve Access to Drexel University’s Atwater Kent Collection

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

PHILADELPHIA—The Pew Charitable Trusts announced today that it has awarded two grants totaling $1.85 million in its ongoing commitment to help Philadelphia-area organizations recover from the impacts of COVID-19 and to preserve and highlight the region’s unique history and civic treasures.

The awards include $1 million for the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation to undertake a comprehensive planning and community engagement process to improve the Free Library’s operations, services, and impact throughout the city, plus $850,000 for Drexel University to significantly expand public access to the Atwater Kent Collection’s photographs, artifacts, and archival materials representing 350 years of life in the region.

“The Pew Charitable Trusts is pleased to support two of our city’s most important institutions—the Free Library of Philadelphia and Drexel University—in their efforts to improve public access to vital collections, education, and programs,” said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the senior vice president leading Pew’s work in Philadelphia. “The library’s strategic planning process will help it engage more residents and communities from across the city and provide more quality, in-demand services for years to come, while Drexel’s plans to create a ‘museum without walls’ will bring thousands of pieces of our region’s history to schools, community centers, and library branches to engage Philadelphians in more meaningful, inclusive ways.”

With the $1 million grant, the Free Library and the Foundation will seek to address operational challenges and changes in patron behaviors that have resulted from the pandemic. By engaging residents from a wide range of races, ethnicities, languages, economic statuses, and neighborhoods, the library hopes to better address community needs through its programs and services. The Free Library will also examine ways to improve access and staffing at many of its branches throughout the city. Once a comprehensive plan is finalized, library and foundation leaders will share key outcomes and tactics with community stakeholders and then communicate the changes and improvements to the general public. 

Pew’s $850,000 grant to Drexel University will help it provide unprecedented public and community access to the Atwater Kent Collection’s approximately 130,000 artifacts. Prior to Drexel’s stewardship, no more than 300 of the collection’s pieces were displayed at any given time. In February 2023, Drexel made approximately 1,000 pieces publicly available online for the first time in the collection’s history; and with Pew’s support, the university will expand that number to 7,200 over three years. The grant will also support conservation of the collection’s artifacts and, importantly, fund a new community lending program that will bring hundreds of pieces of history directly to schools, community centers, and Free Library of Philadelphia branches.

For more information on the Free Library of Philadelphia, please visit; for more details on Drexel University and the Atwater Kent Collection, including artifacts available online, visit

And to learn more about Pew’s work in Philadelphia, click here.


Celebrating its 75th anniversary, The Pew Charitable Trusts uses data to make a difference. Pew addresses the challenges of a changing world by illuminating issues, creating common ground, and advancing ambitious projects that lead to tangible progress. In our hometown of Philadelphia, Pew is committed to making an impact through research and policy work to help the city navigate challenges, supporting the health and well-being of people facing complex challenges rooted in poverty, encouraging a thriving arts and cultural community, and pursuing civic initiatives to strengthen the area’s appeal to residents and visitors alike. Learn more at