In turning three of its under-used neighborhood branches into homework centers for students, the Enoch Pratt Free Library has come up with a winner. This was evident in Southwest Baltimore's Morrell Park, where so many pupils came to the library on the opening day that the branch had to scramble for extra tables and chairs.
Under the homework center concept, that library and the CherrHill and Clifton branches have had their book collections and work routine changed. Out have gone most of the adult material, in have come 5,000 to 10,000 volumes specifically designed to help students in preparing homework assignments. Things like encyclopedias and study guides and computers.
Hours also were changed. Instead of opening the branches at 10 a.m., librarians spend morning hours in the schools. When the homework centers start their four-hour operation on weekdays, they will have at hand not only the library staff but also community volunteers. At least that is the plan, and it seems to be working. Coppin State College already has indicated an interest in providing homework helpers. More volunteers are needed, particularly retired educators, senior citizens and college and high school students.
"We are looking at these as pilots," library spokeswoman Averil J. Kadis says of the three branches. With each of the centers costing about $100,000 a year to operate, the conversions will not bring measurable savings to the financially strapped library system. But Florence S. Brown, who oversees the new centers along with other branches, feels that more intensive use of existing facilities is a worthy goal in itself. We concur.
Books and libraries are wondrous things but reading for learning and enjoyment are often acquired traits. Distractions at home, especially for children of underprivileged families, makes it difficult for them to concentrate on books or their homework. This can lead to poor grades and learning difficulties that often culminate in absenteeism and drop-out problems.
The new homework centers provide children an environment in which they can learn and get help in doing home assignments. Who knows, they might even become magnets which will draw adults to the libraries.