New Pratt plan aims for better library service Management to focus on employee performance

November 12, 1990|By Rafael Alvarez

Every time the Enoch Pratt Free Library reopens a renovated branch or unveils a new service like the neighborhood homework centers, Pratt Trustee President Robert S. Killebrew Jr. announces in a loud voice: "We want people to wear them out."

To achieve that end -- and to convince local government that more library funding is essential if it can be proved that the Pratt is well-used -- Mr. Killebrew and Pratt Director Anna Curry have released the first "performance-based management plan" in the library's 108-year history.

The plan is designed to measure achievement while holding staff and management accountable for success or failure.

Although Mr. Killebrew and Mrs. Curry are depending on the plan to provide "victories," some Pratt staffers have doubts and fears: doubt whether things will actually change for the better and fear that they will wear out before the libraries do.

"If this plan is followed, things will improve," said a high-ranking librarian, one of several longtime Pratt staffers interviewed who did not want to be identified. "But we've had plans before, and nothing ever gets done."

Mr. Killebrew said the plan will succeed if the rank and file sends ideas and criticism to management.

But employees at the Central Pratt and its 28 neighborhood branches have endured a steady erosion of positions because of annual budget problems -- from 215 employees in the branches in 1988 to 160 today -- and are burdened by 51 vacancies among 417 full- and part-time positions.

Among the vacancies are several crucial positions, including the head of selecting book titles; chief of the State Library Resource Center, based at Central Pratt; head of the fine arts and recreation department; and children's services specialist.

Staffers say budget problems aren't the only reason jobs remain vacant at Pratt. Many positions linger vacant for months, they said, because management is simply too slow filling them.

Mr. Killebrew, a managing director at Alex. Brown & Sons and president of the Pratt trustees since last November, is hoping TC that the move toward performance-based management will provide leadership through accountability.

"I think we'll be able to measure achievement for the first time in hundreds of different areas," he said. "And if we find we're not doing it, then the question is, what do we need to do to get it done?"

The plan for the eight months remaining in this fiscal year calls for a wide range of modest accomplishments, including a 5 percent overall increase in circulation, the start of a complete inventory of the system's 2 million books, the creation of a business center at the Central Pratt, and a high-profile media campaign to get readers in the door.

It also calls for the hiring a part-time coordinator of volunteers by next spring, which Mr. Killebrew said would help ease staff shortages but would not be used to replace paid staffers.

Some employees said they are skeptical about education and training programs proposed for the staff. Librarians who now struggle to meet the fundamentals of their jobs said they couldn't imagine indulging in training for added responsibility.

The management plan also calls for stacks of about 2,000 popular titles in the main hall of the Central Pratt on Cathedral Street to increase circulation. It plans for the restoration of full library service to Pigtown in southwest Baltimore by March, too.

What is not included in the new management plan is a reward for getting a tough job accomplished, something both Mr. Killebrew and Mrs. Curry said they were aware of and intend to address.

"This plan makes it very clear how we intend to manage this institution and involve all of those people who are part of delivering service," said Mrs. Curry, who in February was targeted for demotion by the Pratt board of trustees because of perceived mismanagement.

Mr. Killebrew and the board backed off from bringing in a retired corporate executive as chief operating officer of the Pratt after Mrs. Curry announced that she would quit before being subservient to anyone but the board.

A career Pratt employee who has headed the system since 1981, Mrs. Curry has been working under a separate but similar performance review geared specifically to the director's job since July. The document, she said, is fair in its expectations.

"I am responsible for everything under this new plan," she said.

That assertion does not encourage many staffers at the Pratt. They say many talented colleagues have left in disgust in recent years for early retirement or county library jobs.

"We seem to do everything half-baked, not in a truly efficient manner," said one librarian. "If we can't truly run a service, then we should let the public know we don't have the resources to do it."

For example, although Pratt officials publicize the library's "partnership" with city elementary and middle schools as part of Mayor Kurt Schmoke's literacy efforts, the library works formally with only seven schools. In the past, every elementary and middle school in Baltimore was visited monthly by a Pratt children's librarian.

Such routine work is made difficult because the position of children's service specialist, who directs the Pratt's staff of children's librarians, has been vacant since December.

Although the new performance management plan added the newly renovated Pennsylvania Avenue branch to the school partnership program last week, it does not address the children's service specialist vacancy.

The management plan, distributed through the Pratt on Oct. 24, was recently explained to hundreds of employees during the library's fall staff meeting.

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