John Kelley leaving a legacy at Phoenixville library

Photo by Heather Tyrrell
After serving as the executive director of Phoenixville Public Library for 16 years, John Kelley is retiring.
Photo by Heather Tyrrell After serving as the executive director of Phoenixville Public Library for 16 years, John Kelley is retiring.

PHOENIXVILLE — Phoenixville Public Library is undergoing a transition right now with various renovations: a larger computer center, a designated teen area and a larger children’s library among many others.

The changes the library has experienced were overseen by executive director John Kelley. In addition to the transitions of renovations, there will be a change in leadership. Kelley is retiring after serving in his position for 16 years. As executive director, he was in charge of overseeing the operations of the library: the budget, programming, policies, procedures and being engaged in community events to further promote the library.

Kelley said he made the decision in April after thinking about his upcoming 62nd birthday. He didn’t want to wait for age 64 or 66.

“It was tough in the beginning to make that decision,” he said. “Once I made it, I was very comfortable with it and excited about it.”


“It’s tough to leave where you’ve been for 16 years, to leave what you built up, to leave a legacy that is going to be long lasting for the community,” Kelley said.

“I brought the library from a sleepy little library in the Phoenixville community to a really viable community information center.”

In 1996, when Kelley started working at the library, only three computers were available for the members to use. After the computer center renovations are completed, there will be 40.

During his time at the library, he has seen the circulation double and the computer use triple, he said.

Kelley said the library was a valuable asset to the community 16 years ago and is even more valuable now with the “difficult” economy.

“It’s a great time to retire,” he said. “Everything is moving forward.”

He is excited about the renovations and happy the library received the funding to make the changes possible from private donations and a grant from the office of Sen. Andy Dinniman (D-19).

Kelley said Phoenixville’s library is the third busiest library in the county. Plenty of programs keep the library buzzing and he is proud of what the library accomplishes with a budget of less than $1 million.

“We prepare children for their school years,” Kelley said. “We have been doing more cooperative programs with the school district, Colonial Theatre and the SCORE group. We are looking at even more cooperative ventures with the school district. I feel like I put these things in motion.”

He said he feels like after he leaves, the library will continue to see growth. He said the library is in good hands with the staff, various boards, Joe Sherwood, director of the county system and Agatha Lyons, the system’s consultant.

There will always be a need for the library, especially with the ongoing need of learning, Kelley said.

“(The library) benefits people personally, professionally and educationally,” he said.

Although Kelley saw many achievements with moving the library forward, his time there didn’t come without its challenges.

“The most challenging thing is funding, budgets, balancing everything, working with the money that you have to make happen what you need to have and what the community wants to have happen,” Kelley said.

He said the library can work within the confines of what it has because it’s been happening for the last 16 years.

After all of the time he spent at the library, of course there are things Kelley will miss. He said he will miss the customers and the staff the most.

“You can’t have a library without staff. You can’t have a library without customers,” he said.

It’s apparent the staff will miss Kelley too.

Director of Adult Services Mark Pinto has been working with Kelley at the library for 15 years.

“It still hasn’t sunk in (that he’s leaving),” Pinto said. “John was always good to me. His door was always open. I could talk to him if I had ideas or concerns. He’s been unflappable in the face of adversity. I can’t imagine this place without him.”

There are many people Kelley would like to thank including the staff. Without the staff, the library wouldn’t provide the exceptional service the staff gives to the community, he said.

“Volunteers have been terrific as well,” Kelley said. “Volunteers are also a very important part of the process for public libraries everywhere.”

He’d also like to thank the library board, the library foundation board, the friends of the library board and the Phoenixville Area School Board.

“If it weren’t for the boards I worked with who were progressive, who were real deep thinkers in terms of future of the library and giving me the freedom to do what I’ve done, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Kelley said.

A hiring process is being implemented to find a replacement for Kelley. After a new executive director is hired, Kelley will be spending some time helping him or her get acclimated to the position.

Kelley’s plans for retirement don’t include working at this point. He has a few vacations planned here and there. His main plans are focusing on landscape photography for fun. Kelley also plans to do some volunteering. He will be spending more time with his wife and 15-year-old daughter.

He said wants to join the Screen Actors Guild and try to see if he can get some walk-on parts.

“I have friends who aren’t famous actors, but they act,” he said. “I thought it would be fun to join the Screen Actors Guild and find out where all of the casting calls are and just go to them.”

Keep your eyes peeled while watching movies. You may just see Kelley walking in the background.