The Region Needs a Good Central LibraryEditor: As a...


January 11, 1992

The Region Needs a Good Central Library

Editor: As a 15-year resident of Baltimore County, my reading tastes tend to be somewhere between the best-seller list and the frequently obscure.

As such, I have long noted the differences between the Enoch Pratt Free Library (main branch) and the Baltimore County system.

Early in my frequent visits to both, I discovered the futility of looking at the Baltimore County Library for any recent book not on the current best-seller list or out of what could be called the popular genre. Similarly, one did not visit the Pratt central library expecting to find a dozen copies of Robert Ludlum's latest book.

If you were seeking the resources of a serious library, you went to the Pratt, where you could with striking regularity find books you had seen mentioned in literary journals, as well as archives of periodicals and specialized collections in fields such as the arts that were superb by any standard.

This dichotomy as to what should be the relationship between intellectual substance and access to popular literature seems to underly much of the discussion concerning the plight of the Enoch Pratt Library.

While it is tempting to dismiss out-of-hand the egregious comment by Baltimore County library director Charles Robinson, equating some of the classic works of literature to replacement auto parts, it raises a fundamental question.

What value do we as a society place upon access to the entire spectrum of intellectual resources?

What has happened in Baltimore is that the jurisdiction with the most wealth and highest level of education has allowed its library facilities to become dominated by the mass circulation approach, while the attempts of the Pratt to retain its serious archival status have been undercut by demographic trends, budget crises and the quaint ''Baltimore-the-City-That-Reads'' sloganeering mentality.

What will be the Baltimore area's intellectual resources 50 or 100 years from now when, given the current trend, the Pratt Library will probably have ceased to exist and the philosophy of the Baltimore County Library, which presumably relegates anything written earlier than five years ago to junkyard status, has run its course?

Clearly, the demand for library resources must be considered on a regional basis. A rational distribution of those resources would underwrite what already is a current reality: the Pratt library is a repository of serious archival and intellectual material, while the Baltimore Country Library is a circulation mill aimed at popular reading tastes.

There is no reason both these perspectives cannot coexist. Why must the Pratt Library die simply because of the jurisdictional line that is drawn at the city limits?

Contrary to the disturbingly short-sighted view expressed by Mr. Robinson, the acquisition and circulation philosophy espoused by the Baltimore County system, popular with most of the public whose reading tastes it satisfies, should help carry the expense of maintaining the resources that an institution like the Pratt provides.

While these resources may be less intensively used, they are an important part of our intellectual heritage. A continuing lack of cooperation on this issue in Baltimore and other metropolitan jurisdictions will only further erode the calamitous slide that has already taken place in American education and literacy.

Donald Lake.

Towson. Editor: Congratulations to Louis Goldstein on his fine article, ''Maryland Needs Regional Services.''

I hope he will use his tremendous prestige to actively encourage our many narrow-minded politicians to understand that we are all in this together and would be better off in a state where we worked to solve our problems jointly instead of each protecting his turf against the other.

Barney Lochte.


Killing Autos

Editor: After reading your Dec. 23 editorial (''How to Keep GM in Baltimore''), I must question your conclusions in two areas.

I bought Ford products for many years but switched to GM's Astro van for a number of reasons. One of these is the rear-door arrangement. I dislike the hatchback style found on other vans. True, there is a center post, but the vertically hinged door arrangement is much easier to use. People using the Astro van for commercial purposes prefer it.

Secondly, I like the short overall length. I sincerely hope they do not move to a larger vehicle. GM presently offers an Astro van with a longer body, but I have noticed very few around.

The demand is great simply because it is a good product and people like it just the way it is, center post and all.

Over the years I have seen the following trend, particularly with the Ford Motor Co. A company brings out a model that captures the fancy of the consumer. Sales are good but then the manufacturer proceeds to make it bigger, fatter, rounder, add gadgets and destroy the very thing that made the vehicle popular in the first place.

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