February 16, 2018

Elizabeth Fitzgerald | Movers & Shakers 2016 – Innovators

Elizabeth Fitzgerald


Culinary Literacy Specialist, Culinary Literacy Center, Free Library of Philadelphia


MLIS, Rutgers University, 2006


@freelibrarycook (Twitter); www.freelibrary.org/culinary

Photo ©2016 Shawn G. Henry

Culinary Class

“One of my favorite questions is, ‘Why is there a kitchen in the library?’” says Elizabeth Fitzgerald. “There is such an opportunity [here] for advancing literacy.” As culinary literacy specialist at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s (FLP) Culinary Literacy Center, a commercial-grade kitchen classroom that seats 36, Fitzgerald teaches “reading (recipes), math (measuring), and even chemistry through cooking,” says nominator Donald Root, FLP chief of Central Library public services.

The kitchen opened in June 2014 and has hosted 6,000 people at more than 400 events, with initiatives such as Nourishing Literacy—a kids’ program linked to the Common Core—how to create delicious meals on a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) budget, and Edible Alphabet, an English-language learning (ELL) program. During two six-week ELL series in 2015, students spoke 11 languages and came from 12 countries. They are “refugees, primarily from the Middle East, Eastern Africa, and Southeast Asia,” says Fitzgerald. Her first class was for women torture survivors. “It was such a beautiful, uplifting, special class,” she says. Participants “connected over making a meal,” shared pictures, and hugged goodbye. With gift funds, FLP will expand ESL programs and add SNAP education in Spanish and family culinary literacy classes.

A recent ELL program for restaurant workers serves “a crucial need in Philadelphia, where all state funding for ELL classes has ceased,” says Root. Fitzgerald is also developing One Recipe Philadelphia, aimed at getting “all Philadelphians into the kitchen to master a shared simple, healthy, and delicious recipe,” Root says. Fitzgerald’s goal: to bring culinary literacy to all 54 FPL branches. “I can’t wait,” she says.

This article was published in Library Journal's March 15, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. “how to create delicious meals on a SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) budget”

    YES! I’ve wanted to see someone do this for a while now- but I never had the focus or skills to get it done. Well done.

  2. Spencer, check out Leanne Brown’s Hood and Cheap. It’s a beautiful cookbook that does just that. It’s available as a free download on her website. And if you’re close to Philly, check us out!

  3. hi liz