THE CLOSING of branches of the Pratt Library and the curtailment of other library services have produced a great public outcry.
There have been meetings, editorials, feature stories, letters to the editor and an eloquent statement signed by 27 Baltimore writers.
But nowhere have I seen any reference to the Friends of the Library, an organization that for almost two decades has been helping the Pratt in a way which, while modest, has been very real.
In early November in the Poe Room of the central library, the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library held their 18th annual meeting. Joseph Sullivan, the outgoing president, announced that during the past year the Friends of the Library contributed $47,748.46.
This is a modest amount when compared with what the library needs to maintain its services, but it is helpful in meeting some of the needs that do not ordinarily fit into the library's budget. A good part of it is for Homework Center collections at several branches, large print books and audio book cassettes for the vision impaired.
But the Friends do more than contribute money. They serve as volunteers at book sales, in the shop at central library, at library functions and wherever else they are needed. They put on an annual book and author luncheon (not held this year because of scheduling difficulties).
Over the years the Friends have worked closely with the library administration and staff. Anna Curry, library director, and her staff know that here is a pool of volunteers ready to serve as needed and that money is raised for many unbudgeted but important items.
There are 1,597 members, including a number of corporations. This is an extremely small number -- embarrassingly small -- when compared with the large number of readers who use the Pratt. There should be more. Just think what could be done with 10 times as many members. With 20 times as many.
Then I go back and read the writers' statement: "Most of us got a leg up, if not our very first start, in some public library, sometime, somewhere. Without that free and easy access to books, we probably wouldn't be writers now, and some of us might not be much of anything at all."
And that does not apply only to writers. There are few of us in Baltimore who have not benefited from the Pratt Library.
Annual dues in the Friends are modest -- $5 for regular members. (They were kept that low so that everyone could belong.) They are $100 for corporate members.
You can, of course, be as generous as you wish, and many members are quite generous. Applications are handy at the central library and in the branches.
John T. Starr writes from Baltimore.