Library-closings crisis may finally end today

February 12, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

After almost four months of conflict and chaos, all of the many and varied forces working to save local branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library are expected to come together today under one plan.

"The important thing here is the fact that Mayor [Kurt L.] Schmoke and [City Council President] Mary Pat Clarke and everybody on the library side are all on the same wave length," said James A. Ulmer III, president of the Pratt trustees. "This is good cooperation."

Since the current library crisis began in November with the trustees' announcement that the Pratt would permanently close eight neighborhood branches, there has been a new plan to solve the problem just about every month.

The latest strategy, scheduled to be announced at today's noon meeting of the trustees, would form a large "branch advisory council" heavily dependent on citizen volunteers from each of the 28 neighborhoods where the Pratt has a library. The council is expected to meet monthly and, in addition to guiding the way the library operates, would review the way the trustees deliver library service.

Chronically underfunded and now too broke to keep its sprawling system of branches going beyond the end of June, the Pratt wants to cut costs by creating partnerships with citizens and other public agencies.

Neighborhoods will be expected to submit a proposal for the best use of their local libraries, beginning with eight branches that had been scheduled to close last year -- Pimlico, O'Donnell Heights, Canton, Cherry Hill, Morrell Park, Gardenville, Lake Clifton and Hollins-Payson.

The Hollins-Payson branch, for example, will soon be moving into a recreation room at the Steuart Hill Elementary School. A community group in Southeast Baltimore will be moving into the Canton library building.

The Pratt hopes it eventually can involve all 28 of its branches in the community partnership program -- unless next year's budget cuts cripple the library before this year's solution can start to work.

Next year's funding, Mr. Ulmer said, must be addressed by the trustees, the advisory council and the mayor's office before the current fiscal year ends June 30.

Small groups of angry citizens in neighborhoods where libraries were scheduled to close forced their way into the crisis last year and at one point were ready to assume control of libraries the Pratt was set to abandon.

Library supporters said yesterday that for the new plan to work citywide, residents who live near libraries that have not been threatened will need to get involved as well.

"When the Hollins-Payson branch was going to close we were devastated," said Goldye J. Sanders, principal of Steuart Hill Elementary School. "We had to establish a rapport with the library, which we didn't have a year ago, because we knew we couldn't live without it."

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