Library crisis drives mayor to order report Citywide needs will be assessed, not just branches slated to close

November 28, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez

An article yesterday incorrectly identified David Yaffe as head of the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Mr. Yaffe is a director. Dana A. Reed is the group's president.

The Sun regrets the error.

As one Baltimore neighborhood after another protests the scheduled closing of its community library -- with a Pimlico group going so far as to ask about buying its Enoch Pratt branch from the city -- Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke opened the door yesterday to keeping some branches open.

The city is threatening to close eight Pratt branches across the city by next Friday. There are now 28 neighborhood libraries in Baltimore.


But in a City Hall meeting yesterday, the mayor told Pratt Director Anna Curry to report to him early next week with a new plan detailing exactly how many libraries a city of Baltimore's size really needs.

Mrs. Curry "is cautiously optimistic that there will be positive change," said Averil Kadis, a library spokeswoman. "We are trying to come up with plans for all eight branches, ways of working with the communities and using volunteers."

In the two weeks since the mayor announced a $1.3 million cut in the Pratt's $16 million annual budget, neighborhoods and Pratt staff have been scrambling for bottom-line ways to keep libraries open.

Yesterday's conference was the mayor's second meeting this week about the library crisis. On Monday he met with literacy activists from Cherry Hill, angry that their small library was one of the eight branches scheduled to close.

Cherry Hill residents have led the protest against the library closings, challenging the city with a $50,000-a-year proposal that would use volunteers and keep the library open for a fraction of the current cost.

For at least five years the Pratt board has been trying to streamline the sprawling system of neighborhood branches, built an age when the city had money and its citizens read books. While dealing with ever-shrinking budgets, Pratt officials have renovated and transformed a half-dozen neighborhood branches into computerized resource centers.

The library has also stressed literacy, children's programs and homework centers as traditional circulation has declined. Residents were particularly upset to learn that several of the eight branches picked to be closed -- including Cherry Hill and Lake Clifton -- had already been turned into homework centers.

In addition to those two, the threatened branches are in the Hollins Market area, Gardenville, Morrell Park, Canton, Pimlico and at the edge of Dundalk.

A neighborhood meeting was held yesterday afternoon in Canton, the last of four original branch libraries opened personally by Enoch Pratt in 1886.

A similar meeting was held last night in Pimlico, where members of the Northwest Baltimore Corp. discussed options that included buying or leasing the neighborhood's battered branch on Park Heights Avenue.

That plan pivots on moving the community group's administrative offices, its literacy campaign and other programs into the large building at 5001 Park Heights Ave.

"Maybe we can renovate it and relieve the library of some of the expense and upkeep but hold the [Pratt] responsible to maintain the library," said Bill Madison, a member of the Northwest Baltimore Corp.

David Yaffe, who heads the volunteer Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and has been running from neighborhood to neighborhood to counsel residents, told the Pimlico group last night that their primary objective should be to hold the city to its current responsibilities.

"Continue to fight for maximum retention of services," Mr. Yaffe said. "The state and the city have a duty to maintain that library. You should try to save it as a pure branch of the Pratt."

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