As the Enoch Pratt Free Library told 41 employees yesterday that they'll lose their jobs in budget-cutting moves forced by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a Cherry Hill literacy center offered the mayor a novel plan to keep its neighborhood library open at a fraction of what the city paid to run the branch.
The St. Veronica's Damascus Education Center believes it can run the library for $50,000 a year, a little more than a third of what it now costs to run the branch. The plan would use $25,000 to pay a librarian, $10,000 for books, small salaries for three people to shuttle books throughout the neighborhood and $10,000 for a janitor.
A spokesman for Mayor Schmoke said yesterday that the mayor had not yet studied the Cherry Hill alternative, but lauded volunteer efforts to replace lost city resources. Eight Pratt branches are scheduled to close next month as part of a $1.3 million cost-cutting measure.
The proposal, which follows pickets by Cherry Hill residents at City Hall and in front of the neighborhood library, calls for the city to commit to the program for five years.
"We're in the process of educating adults and children to use the library, and to close it now negates that effort," said Patricia A. Gaither, director of the St. Veronica's Center at 806 Cherry Hill Road. Currently, it costs $123,468 to operate the Pratt's Cherry Hill branch, located in a single room in a multipurpose center on Giles Road.
"They are laying off librarians and we could use this money to hire one of them," Ms. Gaither said. "The [$25,000] pay scale may not be comparable, but it's a livable wage. Maybe a retired librarian might want to take it."
The Cherry Hill branch is among the least-used libraries in the city, making it an easy target for closing. Situated at the end of a winding, wooded road, it sits on a high bluff overlooking the middle branch of the Patapsco River. Residents have said many parents are afraid to let their children go there alone.
Ms. Gaither said she is seeking a more accessible site for the library.
"Keep [the current branch] open for a year and put the responsibility on us to find a better site to improve usage and circulation," she said. Pratt director Anna Curry also received a copy of the Cherry Hill proposal yesterday and is scheduled to discuss it with her staff on Monday.
"Where any funds will come from to support this I don't know, but maybe the mayor and the community working with the library can do something," said Pratt spokeswoman Averil Kadis. City Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, whose district includes Cherry Hill, said he sent a letter to the mayor yesterday supporting the plan.
"I think it's feasible. It's less than 40 percent of what it costs now to run the library. The $50,000 annually is negligible," he said. "This tiny facility that is so important to the community deserves to survive." Mr. Murphy added that he finds it unjust for the city to continue funding a public cable television station, Channel 44, at $1.3 million a year, the same amount of money being cut from the libraries.