While one neighborhood after another protests the scheduled closing of their community library, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday told the director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library to report to him early next week with a plan detailing how many libraries a city of Baltimore's size really needs.
Budget cuts announced by the mayor two weeks ago slashed $1.3 million from the 28-branch-system's annual budget of $16 million, prompting the Pratt's Board of Trustees to announce the closing of eight branches from one end of the city to the other.
For five years the library's board has been trying to streamline the sprawling system of neighborhood branches, built in a long-ago age when the city had money and its citizens read books.
The City Hall meeting at 3 p.m. yesterday with Pratt Director Anna Curry was the mayor's second this week dealing with the library crisis. On Monday he met with literacy activists from Cherry Hill angry that theirs was one of the eight branches scheduled to close next week.
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."
While dealing with ever-shrinking budgets and higher costs over the last decade, Pratt officials have renovated and transformed a half-dozen neighborhood branches into computerized resource centers.
The library has also stressed literacy, childrens' 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 made into homework centers.
The other branches to be closed -- unless the Pratt and the mayor can work out something different -- are in Dundalk, the nTC Hollins Market area, Gardenville, Pimlico, Morrell Park and Canton.
A neighborhood meeting, attended by state legislators and a City Council member, 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.
Cherry Hill residents have led the protest against the library closings, challenging the city with a proposal that would keep the library open for a fraction of the cost.
"We are more than happy to cooperate with any community plan that involves volunteers," Mrs. Kadis said. "But what's important to remember is the volunteers need to be trained and work under a professional library staff if they're going to be Pratt libraries."