The State That Reads (at the Pratt)

February 09, 1992

One of the best measures of how well a public library serves its clients is its circulation. By that yardstick, Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library is not doing a good job.

Last year, according to the state's Division of Library Development and Services, the Pratt ranked eighth among the state's 24 public library systems. That is eighth in the total number of books checked out. On a per capita basis, the Pratt was 24th.

It is hardly the Pratt's fault that the suburban and exurban counties have more book-oriented populations. Still, the record suggests a better job of serving the special needs of Baltimore residents should be done. The Pratt's per capita circulation figures are below those of the District of Columbia, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Brooklyn (N.Y.) and several other cities with similar economic and social characteristics.

The Pratt does somewhat better as a reference library. Last year it was third in the state as far as reference transactions were concerned. That reflects the Pratt's special place in Maryland. The central library on Cathedral Street draws researchers from all over the state. (From out of state, too.) It is officially and in practice a state resource.

This role of serving a population beyond its city limits is best seen in inter-library loans. Books that one system does not have, a patron may borrow from another through the local library. According to the state's figures, the Pratt lends as many of its books to the public libraries in other counties as all the other libraries combined lend to each other and to the Pratt. According to the Public Library Association, it lends more books to other systems than all but one other library in North America!

The Pratt is a local, state and metropolitan resource. The statistics seem to suggest it may be serving its broader constituency better than it is serving city residents. Some library experts have proposed a complete state takeover of the central library and, in effect, a takeover of the Pratt's responsibilities to 00 non-city residents. If at the same time the branches could be strengthened for their mission of serving the city's populace, this

idea could have considerable merit.

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