Library 'Friends' new director 'brings people together'

by Sue Ann Rybak
Posted 5/19/21

Amy Wilson, 35, the new executive director of the Friends of Chestnut Hill Library Board and manager of Hilltop Books, is an environmentalist, social justice advocate, cyclist and avid book reader.

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Library 'Friends' new director 'brings people together'


Amy Wilson, 35, the new executive director of the Friends of Chestnut Hill Library Board and manager of Hilltop Books, is an environmentalist, social justice advocate, cyclist and avid book reader. She wants the Friends of Chestnut Hill Library’s non-profit bookstore, located at 84 Bethlehem Pike, to be a welcoming space for everyone.

“I hope it’s a space that brings people together,” she said last week. “It should be a welcoming space, regardless of what zip code you come from. I hope people connect with one another and then find points of connection through books but also with neighbors.”

She said the bookstore has received an incredible amount of support from the neighborhood and hopes “that enthusiasm and support will ripple out into the larger community.”

Wilson, who grew up in Norwich, Vermont, which has roughly 3,500 people, never planned on living in Philadelphia very long. She recalled arriving on the train with a couple of suitcases after graduating from Carleton College, a private liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, to work at Energy Justice Network in 2008.

In 2012 she took a job as the director of operations for Neighborhood Bike Works, a non-profit organization that empowers youth and strengthens communities by providing access to bicycling. It was established in 1996 as a program of the Bicycle Coalition of Delaware Valley. “We had a lot of after-school programming about bike mechanics and how to ride safely in the city,” she said.

She left Neighborhood Bike Works last May and accepted a position with the National Park Service, working as a park ranger at Mount Rainier National Park in Washington for the season, ending in October. Wilson, who is passionate about sports and spends her free time biking, hiking and running, said it wasn’t a career move but rather an opportunity to go out west.

“I was looking for something different,” she said. “I was biking every weekend. I was full-time, but we worked 10-hour days a week and then had three days off.”

In addition to biking the trails at Mount Rainier, she has biked to Washington, D.C., and in California from Santa Barbara to San Diego. She has also hiked Vermont’s Long Trail, which follows the main ridge of the Green Mountains from the Massachusetts-Vermont line to the Canadian border. It’s 275 miles.

After returning to Philadelphia in the fall, Wilson, who lives in West Philadelphia, started volunteering at Bindlestiff Books, a small independent bookstore in her neighborhood.  “It was a great fit for me,” she said. “I loved volunteering there. Reading books has always been a big part of my life. I come from a reading family. One of our family traditions at Christmas is a book swap. My mom even has a spreadsheet with all the books on it.”

So, what is she reading now? Wilson is currently reading “Girl, Women, Other” by Bernardine Evaristo and “Detransition, Baby” by Torrey Peters. She said other books in her “stack” include “Maybe You Should Talk to Someone” by Lori Gottlieb; “The End of Policing” by Alex S. Vitale; “Long Bright River: A Novel” by Liz Moore; “The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories” by Danielle Evans,  and “Crying in HMmart” by  Michelle Zauner.

Wilson said she wants to increase the accessibility of books to people in the surrounding neighborhoods. “We want to continue to make books affordable,” she said.

Books ay Hilltop sell for one-third of the list price and lower, depending on the condition of the book. If you want a deal, she suggests you check out the spinner, which features a variety of books for only $2. When asked why people should buy books at Hilltop versus Amazon and big retail stores, she replied, “Community!” When people come to the store, she wants them to feel a sense of community.

“We are looking at creative ways to accomplish that,” Wilson said. “For example, book recommendations from individuals. So when the person comes in, they see a recommendation written by their neighbor.”

She envisions the Hilltop bookstore as a place for neighbors to gather and share stories, and she hopes to host various events and activities post-Covid-19, including a children’s storytime, a speaker series, book signings, a poetry slam and a Murder Mystery book club. “We want to meet the needs and interests of the community but also attract more people to the store beyond Chestnut Hill.”

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