Indispensable secretary wins Pratt's top award

November 01, 1990|By Rafael Alvarez

The Enoch Pratt Free Library's employee of the year for 1990 is not a librarian.

She's a secretary and, according to more than 300 of her peers -- who honored her with the Pratt's annual William G. Baker Jr. Award and its $500 prize yesterday -- she is indispensable.

One of 13 children reared in the town of Mill Run, Garrett County, Katie Durner is a coal miner's daughter who grew up in a small town some 30 miles from the closest public library.

When she arrived in Baltimore from Mill Run 23 years ago on a Greyhound bus with a new high school diploma but no job, the local unemployment office directed her to the Pratt.

She was hired on the spot and sent over to the Roland Park branch to check out books for $4,000 a year.

"The first real public library I ever saw was the Pratt," she said. "Walking into [Central] was overwhelming."

Today the 41-year-old Woodberry resident trouble-shoots two essential functions that keep the Central Pratt and its 25 neighborhood branches running: employee payroll and telephone service.

This past year she oversaw the installation of some 1,000 new telephones throughout the Pratt.

"I'm behind the scenes," said Mrs. Durner after her colleagues gave her a standing ovation yesterday morning during the Pratt's fall staff meeting.

"I handle all of the employees' leave, problems with their paychecks, all the telephone problems, and I do a lot of typing," she said.

For that Mrs. Durner makes $19,000 a year, which she considers fair.

The Baker Award -- established with a $5,000 endowment in 1949 in memory of William G. Baker Jr., the co-founder of Baker Watts & Co. and a Pratt trustee for for 32 years -- seeks to honor "outstanding service in any position which has contributed to the effective operation of the library."

Mr. Baker, a board president from 1927 to 1937, years in which the Central Pratt was built, died in 1948. His widow endowed the award a year later.

In 1950 the first recipient was Ellen F. Watson, a reference department assistant who received $100.

Mrs. Durner, whose popularity comes in no small measure from her work to straighten out her fellow workers' paycheck problems, was cited, among other qualities, for "her caring and pleasant attitude."

She said she will use the $500 award to help pay for an access ramp to her home for her handicapped son, who is 15. She and her husband John, who works in home repair, also have a 4-year-old daughter.

"I'm so proud to get it," she said. "My husband said it's the Academy Awards of the library. It's really an honor."

A reader who depends on the Pratt for how-to books -- when she wanted to learn crochet, she went to the children's department to get a beginner book -- Mrs. Durner was asked to name one important thing she would do if she were Pratt director for a day.

"I would hire more staff," she said, referring to her colleagues in the trenches of book-borrowing.

"More staff would be very helpful in taking some of the stress off of our public service" workers.

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