New Parker administration communication policy riles Free Library branches

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Mayor Cherelle Parker’s administration faced online indignation Tuesday, after social media accounts for some Free Library of Philadelphia branches shared a post suggesting her office was issuing a gag order to librarians.

The new mayor’s team was quick to refute some of the allegations, telling Metro that they will not be preventing library staff from publicizing schedules changes for children’s story time or older adult groups.

Around a dozen accounts associated with branches shared a message through their Facebook and Instagram pages that read, in part: “Effective 2/6/24, all fliers, social media content, and newsletters must be approved by the Mayor’s Office.”

The statement goes on to say that all communications need to be approved by the city’s Office of Children and Families and the Mayor’s Communications Office. Patrons are encouraged to call local branches for information on unforeseen closures or changes to operating hours, the post says.

Joe Grace, Parker’s communications director, said the policy is aimed at making sure the administration has “one clear, cohesive, unified voice,” and it is being applied across departments and agencies.

On Jan. 26, the Inquirer reported that Managing Director Adam Thiel sent an email to department leaders saying: “To be absolutely clear, NO MEDIA INTERVIEWS, SOCIAL MEDIA POSTS, OR STATEMENTS OF ANY, KIND-UNTIL/UNLESS APPROVED IN ADVANCE BY MAYOR’S COMMUNICATIONS.”

“The policy is working,” Grace said Tuesday. “We’ve been doing this for about three weeks. We have not slowed anybody down, in terms of what agencies or departments are communicating.”

“Online, some folks are misunderstanding the policy,” he added. “There is no intention that we’re going to be reviewing, as I’ve read online, library branch hours or programs for seniors or children or families. That’s not what we’re doing.”

Though the social media posts published by the library branches did not outright criticize the policy, some exhibited signs of mild protest.

Falls of the Schuylkill Branch encouraged followers to stay up to date by monitoring pages for the library’s friends group, while others warned of delays in getting information out and directed residents with questions to Parker’s office.

Greater Olney Library, on its page, said the new communications policy covers “reposts, weekly crafts, programs, closures, BHM posts, and all other posts made on IG and FB.”

Responses to the posts were overwhelming in opposition to the mandate, with some complaining of a waste of taxpayer dollars and others worried about censorship. The messages also spawned a post on the Philadelphia Reddit page that generated more than 200 comments.

“It’s giving 1984,” one Instagram user opined below a post on the Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library account, referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel.