The Library Where It All Began

FRANKLIN MASON

November 29, 1991|By FRANKLIN MASON

Where did it all begin? They were closing his library, closing it for good, Enoch Pratt's No. 18, the Clifton Park branch, his long-ago library. Perhaps it all began there seven decades ago.

All you had to do was look into his house. His house now was nothing but books, newspapers, magazines. Perhaps some paper he might write on, but mostly books, newspapers, magazines. It was his life.

Perhaps it all began back in the Twenties, the early Twenties, when he was in grammar school. At School No. 99 at Washington Street and North Avenue. His grandfather from England had been the architect of that school and of other Baltimore schools.

Maybe he would visit there. Go see his old school. He liked the entrances, the bold ''BOYS'' in a stone over one door, the bold ''GIRLS'' in stone over the other. And there was a plaque that said, ''Erected 1891' He was pleased. His grandfather's building was exactly 100 years old. He went in.

And SURPRISE! Inside, it didn't look to be a school and he soon found it wasn't. It was apartments now, he hadn't known. They had changed his grandfather's insides but his outside still looked like a school.

From the school he walked just a block away, went to his library on Wolfe Street. He hadn't been there for years and years, but he knew it was where so much had started years ago, and he found a sign on the door. It said the branch would be closed permanently on the week of December 2.

Could they do that, could they do that?

They had taken part of his school away and now they were taking his library away. Could they do that?

Back in his primary grades, seven decades ago, there were books at home and at school. Those books had their points, he knew, but yet, but yet -- .

They weren't exactly real books, entirely real books, they weren't exciting books like the ones in his library branch. In his library branch he could look long, choose carefully, one book or maybe two. Books were scarce then, and librarians tighter. He would get exactly what he wanted and take it home carefully and read it carefully. Maybe he got as much education from his library as he did from his school.

Maybe that's where it all began.

Time passed and schools passed, but books never did. They grew all the time. He worked in bookstores and libraries. He needed books at work, he needed books at home.

And so it was seven decades passed, and his house was filled with books, newspapers, magazines. It was his life.

He had made out all right, he hoped. But there were others, he wasn't sure about them. They were the very young, the ones just starting out, just beginning to read.

He had known books all his life. He knew what libraries meant to him. He feared for the young, feared they might never know his world of books. For now they are closing libraries.

Can they do that?

B6 There are more ways of burning books than by fire.

Franklin Mason is a retired Evening Sun copyreader.

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