1901 Vine St., 215/686-5322
HOURS: Mon.–Wed. 9 a.m.–9 p.m., Thurs.–Sat. 9 a.m.–5 p.m.,
Sun. 1–5 p.m., tour of rare books collection Mon.–Fri. 11 a.m.
The central branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia opened in 1927. While parts are in need of updating, signs of the Beaux Arts building’s original grandeur can be seen in the high vaulted ceilings in the main foyer, crown moldings in many of the reading rooms, and the Rare Books Collection on the 3rd floor. Twenty different signs throughout the building describe each space and its history.
During a tour of the Rare Books Collection, you’ll see a cuneiform from 2800 B.C.; Book of the Dead scrolls; Charles Dickens’ mummified pet raven, Grip, believed to have inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s famous poem The Raven; and original manuscripts and first editions of both Dickens and Poe.
The collection also contains the William McIntyre Elkins Library, transported from the collector’s home in Briar Hill just outside Philadelphia  panel by panel and beautifully re-created. It contains an extensive Dickens collection and Dickens’ own desk and lamp.
A massive renovation and restoration project is in the works that will add a modern, state-of the-art addition to the library, connected by bridges to the original building.
The library regularly hosts free films, lectures, and children’s programs, and rotating exhibits in the 1st-floor Fleisher Gallery.
A roof deck affords a great view of the city, but is only open for special events—or if you can sweet-talk a staff member into taking you up for a peek.