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Enriching Your Ride with Reading: SEPTA and the Free Library of Philadelphia Open Virtual Library 'Branch' at Suburban Station

By Heather Redfern
SEPTA Press Officer

Reading and enjoying a good cup of coffee - they can make the morning train ride to work more bearable and the trip home go by faster. But what do you do when you have finished the book you've brought along for that day's ride? If you take SEPTA, no problem.

For the month of April, SEPTA, the Free Library of Philadelphia and Dunkin' Donuts are bringing the books to commuters via the virtual library at the Authority's Suburban Station. This is believed to be the first virtual library at a U.S. train station.

Located on Suburban Station's platforms, the campaign's 76 brightly colored displays - filled with selections from the Free Library's extensive digital collection - put a new spin on the typical "to go" menu. Riders step up to the boards, scan QR codes with their smart phones or camera-containing tablet and download the Free Library's ebooks and author podcasts to their devices. Almost instantaneously, passengers have new reading or listening materials on phones and tablets. Add a drink from one of Suburban Station's Dunkin' Donuts locations and customers are set for their SEPTA journeys.

"Sometimes the train or bus is the only place our riders get a chance to relax with a book for an extended period of time," said SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey. "The digital library allows commuters to access a great number of books and podcasts when on the move."

The concept for the virtual library was developed as a way to celebrate National Library Week, April 14-20, and promote the perfect combination of reading while using public transit. "To take advantage of the Free Library, you don't always need to go to the physical building - you can take the Library with you," said Casey. "What better way to showcase the Library's digital offerings than by opening a virtual 'branch' at Suburban Station, one of SEPTA's busiest stations and a place where thousands of people are on the go everyday?"

"We are proud to partner with SEPTA and Dunkin' Donuts to bring the virtual library to Suburban Station," said Siobhan A. Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library. "The Free Library's vast digital resources include access to more than 80,000 ebooks, 8,000 audiobooks and 1,000 author podcasts. We are committed to making as many of our incredible resources available online at as possible, so that our customers can access great materials wherever they are - including on their daily commutes!"

The Suburban Station platform displays include QR codes to download podcast conversations with authors and public figures like Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Dave Barry and classics such as Les Miserables and Frankenstein - all of which do not require a Free Library of Philadelphia card. To access bestsellers like Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken and Lee Childs' A Wanted Man, a library card is needed, but the directions for registering for a card are also available via QR code.

In addition to the displays at Suburban Station, SEPTA and the Free Library are recognizing National Library Week with a special contest. "We wanted to start a social media conversation of what are customers are reading," said Kim Scott Heinle, SEPTA's Assistant General Manager of Customer Service.

Through April 16, SEPTA riders can submit titles of books they have read or are currently reading to the SEPTA Philly Facebook page or @SEPTA_Social Twitter feed, with #enrich your ride, to win prizes including passes to some of the Free Library's conversations with noted authors, a Dunkin' Donuts prize pack and a SEPTA monthly pass. Contest information is available here.

"We've received many great responses from our customers. Hopefully we can keep this 'virtual book club' going after the contest ends," added Heinle.

The public will be also able to explore the Free Library's full digital offerings on April 16 when the Techmobile - a "hot spot on wheels" - is stationed outside of SEPTA's City headquarters at 1234 Market Street from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Library staff will help the public register for library cards, download digital materials and learn more about the Free Library's online offerings.

More than 70 boards like this will comprise the virtual library at SEPTA's Suburban Station through the month of April.

Free Library of Philadelphia President and Executive Director Siobhan A. Reardon announced the opening of the Library's "branch" at Suburban Station.

Free Library Digital Resource Specialist Loren Groenendaal demonstrates how to download library offerings to a smart phone.

Commuters "check out" books from the virtual library.

The virtual library coincides with National Library Week, April 14-20. Other SEPTA-Library Activities include the "What Are You Reading?" contest and a visit by the Library's Techmobile to SEPTA's Center City Headquarters on April 16.