Five Pratt libraries will open on limited basis Branches may be taken over by civic groups.

December 04, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

City officials have found $350,000 to keep five public library branches open on a limited basis for 90 days while community groups look for ways to take them over.

But those branches -- Canton, Dundalk, Gardenville, Hollins-Payson and Pimlico -- won't be part of the Enoch Pratt Free Library system after March 15, says Anna Curry, director of the Pratt.

And while communities may run them and offer some services after that, "I do not envision them being libraries," says Curry.

Her comments followed an emotional public meeting at the Pratt Central Library last night, where she unveiled the plan to a sometimes-angry response from a crowd of more than 100 library supporters.

The Pratt had announced plans to close eight branches by this Friday because of a $1.3 million cut in state aid. The branches include three that function as special "homework centers" geared to schoolchildren.

The Pratt also planned to lay off about 40 workers, to give all workers a six-day, unpaid furlough and to close the Central Library on Fridays, starting Dec. 13.

The furlough and Friday shutdowns still will take place, said Curry.

But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke told Curry last week that he had found $200,000 for the library by deferring some city maintenance work. The Pratt itself decided to postpone another $150,000 in maintenance work.

The extra money means that only about 20 workers will have to be laid off, she said.

It also helps ensure that the "homework centers" at the Cherry Hill, Morrell Park and Clifton branches will remain open permanently, staffed with part-time Pratt librarians, said Curry.

In addition, the five other branches will remain open for 90 days on a limited basis while community groups come up with their own plans for them. A joint library-community task force is being formed to oversee that process.

"This is simply to give time to properly move these facilities . . . into the hands of the communities and allow for transition," said Clinton R. Coleman, a spokesman for the mayor.

In the meantime, Pratt services will gradually be phased out at those five branches, said Curry.

She said it would be very unlikely for a community to have the resources to staff and run a full public library of its own. Instead, the branches could be turned into resource centers or reading rooms.

The library director repeatedly blamed state and city budget woes for the drastic cutbacks in service.

Administrators have cut costs and raised funds in the past, she ** said, but "have exhausted Band-Aid measures for what has become a cataclysmic situation."

She praised community activists in the Cherry Hill area who came up with a plan to keep that branch open by furnishing volunteers for the "homework center," and said Baltimore could become a national model for community-library cooperation.

Community groups in the Canton and Pimlico areas also are moving to support those library branches.

But Curry's remarks drew a less-than-enthusiastic response from crowd angered at the prospect of curtailed services and closed libraries.

"Our mayor has gone around saying we're 'The City That Reads.' I don't think he believes it," said an angry Jane Shipley, a Charles Village resident.

Shipley blasted what she sees as an attempt to stick neighborhoods with the financial burden of running their libraries.

"I want you to say we can accept no cuts," she said to members of the library's Board of Directors. "I want you to say, we are cut to the bones -- and we're not cutting the bones."

Leona Kotofski, a member of the Morrell Park Community Association, said the cutbacks were not conducted fairly.

"Most of these libraries are not located in wealthy areas," she said. "Some of the people in our community think the burden should be spread around."

The Rev. Bill Bridgman, associate pastor of the First Church of God of Baltimore, presented letters and petitions signed by nearly 1,000 students asking that the Gardenville library be kept open.

"It's the children who are the future of Baltimore," he said. "If we close their library, do we close their future?"

Bridgman said after the meeting that the Pratt's plan may only postpone the crisis.

"We want some permanent solutions to guarantee that our library is going to stay open for our kids," he said.

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