For the past 23 years, the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped has been housed in a small brick building next door to the venerable Charles Theatre in the 1700 block of N. Charles St.
The library, which is an arm of the Maryland Department of Education, offers its clients more than 200,000 books and 82 magazines in large print and in Braille and on audio-cassettes and audio-discs.
Because of its cramped quarters, the library hasn't been serving as many people as it might, however.
"Right now, we are operating as a warehouse," says Eugene Spurrier, who is blind and volunteers at the library. "And that is not what a library is about."
"When we first came here, about half the space we have now was available to us," says Lance Finney, the facility's regional librarian. "We knocked out the wall that separated us from the next building and took over that area."
There still wasn't enough room. Now that is about to change.
Construction has begun on a new library at the corner of Park Avenue and Franklin Street. The site was donated by the city government and is adjacent to the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
Scheduled for completion in the spring of 1993, the 52,000-square-foot facility will double the space of the current library and the number of patrons served from 7,000 to approximately 15,000. The 1990 General Assembly approved $7 million to build the library.
According to Finney, clients of the new library are to be offered a larger collection, an in-house recording studio, a print-to-Braille computer system, a shipping and receiving dock and a larger public service area.
The library has a staff of 10 full-time employees and 50 or so volunteers from around the state, who, during construction, will continue providing services to all Maryland residents who are unable to use a book because of a physical handicap, blindness or other visual impairment.
Clients can use the library in person or by mail. In the latter case, requested materials are mailed to borrowers free of charge and in a timely manner, says one client.
"I have used libraries of this sort around the country, but I still enjoy the efficient service here," says Kingsley Price, a client since 1953 who is blind and a professor at Johns Hopkins University. "The books are sent out on time, they quickly tell me what is available and the staff is just excellent."