For the past three decades, Elliot Shelkrot led the Free Library of Philadelphia with class and dignity and elevated its renowned status.
For the past three decades, Elliot Shelkrot led the Free Library of Philadelphia with class and dignity and elevated its renowned status. The Mount Airy resident, who served as president and director of the library, died March 21, from complications of heart disease. He was 72.
Shelkrot served as the Pennsylvania state librarian from 1980 to 1987, before taking over the Free Library in 1987. Over the next 20 years he introduced numerous programs and initiatives, including the launching of the Author Events series and the Changing Lives campaign. During that span, all neighborhood libraries were renovated and modernized, with Shelkrot overseeing the installation of computers and Wi-Fi at every library in the city.
Toby Dichter, chair of the Free Library, knew Shelkrot for 18 years. She told the Jewish Exponent he will be missed. She described him as a “leader, authentic, genuine, smart and honorable.”
“He was absolutely delightful to work with,” added Dichter. “He was a librarian in his bones.”
She explained that librarians are always looking to help people, which is what Shelkrot did. According to her, maintaining 55 libraries was not an easy task, but he had a vision.
Dichter recalled the fight Shelkrot had in him, battling to keep all of the libraries open amidst budget cuts, yet still finding a way to open a facility at Parkway Central. On a personal level, she noted his “wry sense of humor” and that he always put others first.
“If you look at his picture, there’s a little bit of a crooked smile and a twinkle in his eye,” Dichter said. “He treated people with respect. I think the idea that he could be such a humanitarian and so wonderful one-on-one was terrific.”
Judge Phyllis Beck, who served on the board of the Free Library for 17 years and knew Shelkrot for two decades, recalled how she rarely saw him without a smile on his face.
“He was just wonderful,” Beck said. “The library today is just an amazing place and it’s built on the foundation that Elliot started. He foresaw the library was changing and he was an allowing agent for that change.”
Shelkrot is survived by his wife, Evelyn Minick; sons Daniel, Max and Benjamin; a brother and a sister. He was preceded in death by his first wife, Janet Hazen, and son David.
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