Schools, community groups team with Pratt in effort to preserve libraries Cooperation helps branches stay open

January 19, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez

In Canton, a student job-training program will move to the local library. In Pigtown, a library will move to a local elementary school, as Baltimore looks for ways to preserve the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Add community groups to the partnership between the Pratt and city schools and you have a troika representing the way neighborhood libraries are likely to be run in Baltimore in the 1990s.

"We'll be sharing facilities and sharing the costs," said James A. Ulmer III, president of the Pratt's board of trustees. "It's something we're going to be doing much more throughout the system."

Just last week the Canton and Hollins-Payson branches of the Pratt were among five neighborhood libraries in the 28-branch system scheduled to be closed because of $1.3 million in budget cuts ordered by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

Now the 107-year-old Canton branch on South Ellwood Avenue hopes to find stability with the help of students from Canton Middle School and community volunteers. The Hollins-Payson branch is scheduled to move into the nearby Steuart Hill Elementary School, where someone else will be paying the utility bills.

"These are dismal times for libraries, and this cooperation can help save them," said Walter G. Amprey, superintendent of city schools.

Mr. Amprey said the schools have a tradition of staying open for community activities after the last bell has rung. He sees no activity more in line with the purpose of schools than a library.

"The schools and the libraries have always been there for each other," he said. "People still see a library as an extra in the schools instead of being crucial, and they are absolutely crucial."

The city budget cuts, announced Nov. 13, forced the Pratt to lay off 17 employees, furlough all remaining employees for six days and close its central library on Cathedral Street every Friday.

Initially, the Pratt said the cuts would force the closing of eight branches throughout the city, and later it said that the branches would be given to community groups to run themselves.

Loud and constant public protests, however, forced the trustees to change their mind almost monthly.

Last week, Mr. Ulmer announced that a gift of $25,000 from the Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library and another $50,000 from a "discretionary fund" of the trustees had allowed all Pratt branches to stay open through June 30.

After the Friends of the Pratt voted to donate the money, group member David Yaffe said, "It would be a mistake to think that the constriction of library service in Baltimore is over now."

Into that uncertainty has come the latest plan to combine shrinking Pratt funds with the resources of city schools and community groups, an idea pushed by City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.

On Tuesday, the council is expected to vote on a resolution to make its Education and Human Resources Committee the umbrella for all groups trying to help the Pratt. That same resolution calls for the Budget and Appropriations Committee to be responsible for evaluating Pratt fund-raising while looking for new library funding from state, federal and private sources.

At 6 that night, the Pratt task force on the future of branch libraries will meet in the central library's Poe Room at 400 Cathedral St.

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