Retiring librarian: 'Libraries are about people, not books'

by Len Lear
Posted 4/20/23

Marsha Stender, longtime librarian and branch manager of the Lovett Library in Mt. Airy, has just stepped down from that job after 17 years of service.

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Retiring librarian: 'Libraries are about people, not books'


Marsha Stender, longtime librarian and branch manager of the Lovett Library in Mt. Airy, has just stepped down from that job after 17 years of service – one of a long line of people who have dedicated themselves to the important community institution. 

Stender has steered the library since 2017, when it reopened after a 20-month renovation, resuming a mission “to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.”

“People still use libraries, but not for what they used to,” said Stender, who sat down with us in the library to reflect on her years in the profession. “We serve a different purpose today. “

Librarians help visitors with computers and direct them to resources other than classic literature or history books. Stender has supervised publicity for jazz performances at the library, scheduled speakers for special programs, coped with fighting visitors and made space for a yoga teacher to lead classes on a library porch.

She has had to evolve as a librarian, adapting to the changes in her profession and workplace at a time when colleagues are considering the role of such new trends including robotics and virtual reality.

“Marsha is an astounding neighborhood networker and strengthens the communities she serves so well,” said Anne Craig Humphreys, one of Stender’s former supervisors. “She is an amazing branch manager who lifts staff morale, and she is one of the finest librarians I have ever had the pleasure of supervising.”

Stender, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., describes herself as a “recycled adult.” She had been a realtor for 25 years when she switched gears and went back to college in her 50s.

“I had been taking care of everyone but myself,” she said. The frustration of soaring interest rates in the late 1970s and early 1980s real estate market provided a perfect time to make a switch.

She enrolled in graduate school at the University of Buffalo and earned two master’s degrees, one in English, and the other in library science. Her husband Thomas earned a doctorate degree but became a furniture maker and designer when he couldn’t secure a job at the university where he wanted to teach. The couple divorced when their two daughters were young and Thomas later died of brain cancer.

Stender came to Philadelphia in 2006 because she was offered a library job in the city. “I asked for diversity, and they put me in the Greater Olney Library,” she said. “I absolutely loved it. We had people from 65 countries use the library. My high school French came in handy. We had people from Mauritania, Haiti, Burkina Faso, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, etc.”

After three-and-a-half years, Stender was moved out of Olney, and was then transferred often, always to libraries in Northwest Philadelphia – Joseph E. Coleman Library, West Oak Lane Library, Andorra Library, Ogontz Library, Wadsworth Library and the Lovett Library after its renovation was completed in December of 2017.

Her assignment to Lovett meant that Stender would be working at a library with roots that go back to the late 1800s. In 1865, Thomas Lovett purchased more than 10 acres along Germantown Avenue for a family estate. The Mt. Airy Free Library was co-founded 20 years later in a rented room at a lumber yard by Louisa Lovett. In 1887, Charlotte Lovett Bostwick built and endowed the library as a memorial to her brother, Thomas.

Lovett Library became a branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia in 1924. A new addition was opened in 1961, and in 1982 the Friends of Lovett Library was formed.

“Except for Andorra, this is the only one where people actually ask me for advice on literature,” said Stender, who lives within walking distance of Lovett. “People need resources and help with computers. But there are so many good people to work with. For example, I had a first-grade teacher come here from King of Prussia to volunteer to help people from other countries learn to read….”

Who was Stender's most unusual book lender? “I once had a patron at the Nicetown branch who returned a yoga book two years late. He brought his prison release papers with him, showing that he had been released the previous day. I was impressed, and the book was in perfect condition, so I canceled his late fees.” 

National Library Week is April 23 to 29. For more information, visit or call 215-685-2095. Len Lear can be reached at