SHHHHHHH! The quiet closing of central Pratt for holidays upsets library patrons

December 26, 1991|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Evening Sun Staff

You'd think somebody had hung a "Humbug!" sign on the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

On a cold Christmas Eve morning, patron after patron tried the locked door of the darkened central library, books in hand, only to walk away grumbling.

The library was closed that day for budget reasons, as it had been every day since the previous Thursday.

Pratt officials, under the gun to save $1.3 million because of city budget cuts, decided in November to close from Dec. 20 through Dec. 25, giving library workers an unpaid furlough.

The central library is open today, but will be closed again tomorrow, Friday closings having been initiated Dec. 13 as a regular weekly occurrence to save money. The library will re-open Saturday on its regular schedule.

Word that the library would be closed for six consecutive days through Christmas Day apparently never made it back to the disappointed stream of library faithful who dropped by the closed Pratt.

"They should have kept it open at this time for the kids who are home for the holidays," said Linda Little, who was returning a book on job interview tips.

She said a move is counterproductive, at a time when city officials are worried about the poor academic performance by students.

"We're not helping by closing the libraries. They're adding to the problem," she said.

Debby Ordway, a Cecil County resident who works on Charles Street, was surprised and disappointed.

"I hate to see it happening to a library, to education, to things like that," said Ordway, who added that the Pratt is more convenient than her own local library in Elkton.

And Dr. John Gnabre, a medical researcher, sees something ominous in the city's decision to save money by shutting libraries.

"It's everywhere, it's a trend," he said. "America is just investing in its short-term interests, not in its long-term interests, like many developing countries, like Germany and Japan."

Even in difficult financial times, "libraries and universities should not be the things you close," said Gnabre. Closing the Pratt for budgetary reasons "is just a small problem, but in the near future, you're going to see America going down and down and down," Gnabre added.

Meanwhile, the mayor's spokesman said he detects little bitterness in the public's reaction to the Pratt closures.

"People understand the fiscal realities in this city currently, and that the administration is trying in every way that it can to maintain services," said Coleman.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore County Public Library also is saving money through shutdowns and unpaid days off for employees. The libraries were closed the first three days of this week, and will be shut the first three days of next week. Employees will lose three days' pay.

"The staff is taking leave without pay on Dec. 23 to relieve your book budget," said a tape on the answer machine at the main library branch in Towson.

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