Pratt, counties shudder at state aid cuts Branch libraries in Baltimore to close

October 11, 1991|By David Simon HC

Nearly half the Enoch Pratt library branches in Baltimore will be forced to close as a result of the cuts in state aid to the city proposed this week by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and the General Assembly, library officials said yesterday.

"We understand the anxiety that the community at large feels when we're faced with this terrible kind of decision," said Anna A. Curry, library director, adding that decisions about which branches would close have not yet been made.

In addition, Mrs. Curry and other Pratt officials said, an estimated 60 full- and part-time employees will be laid off if the $1.2 million budget cut -- part of an estimated $26 million cut in aid to Baltimore -- is enacted by the General Assembly and the state Board of Public Works.

Library officials say that 13 of 28 neighborhood branches will be closed and that the hard decisions on which libraries to close will be predicated on such things as branch operating costs, use and geography.

Acknowledging that past proposals for library closings have produced considerable pressure from city council members and neighborhood groups, Mrs. Curry and other officials said they did not want to begin identifying threatened branches until the closings were absolutely necessary.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library system operates on an annual budget of $16.5 million -- $8.4 million of it in state support. Officials nonetheless said that the $1.2 million cut will require the closure of nearly half the branches because the state's budget woes are occurring well into the current fiscal year.

"The cuts won't be implemented for more than six months into the fiscal year," said Gordon E. Krabbe, director of administrative services for the libraries. "So essentially, eight of the $16 million will already be spent, and the cuts will have to be absorbed from what's left."

Also, officials noted that the Pratt's central branch on Cathedral Street, as a research resource for the city and the state, consumes much of the library system's budget. Even so, officials say that the cuts will force the closing of the central branch one day a week.

In addition, officials said the cuts will also affect the system's acquisition of research materials and books: "It can't help but have some impact on that as well," Mrs. Curry said. "I was assistant director for five years, and I've been director for 10, and we've never had to face something of this magnitude."

While library officials said they -- like other agency heads -- hope that the state will be persuaded to look elsewhere for savings, they acknowledged that they are not hopeful.

"In this economic environment, it's very hard to be optimistic," said Mrs. Curry. "The state's fiscal circumstances are worsening, and there isn't any other source that can make up the funding."

Officials said that library closings will be undertaken using a protocol developed by the trustees. Operational costs and patronage for each branch are the most important factors considered under that protocol, but the proximity to other branches and the physical condition of the structure are also weighed.

About a dozen library branches have been renovated recently, and several are equipped as regional centers that allow students up to the junior college level to use a variety of research material. Those branches would be less likely to close, officials said.

As for layoffs, officials said the estimated loss of 60 library staff -- from a work force of 399 full-time and 100 part-time employees -- would follow city guidelines based on both seniority and job importance.

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