Friends and trustees say money, not mayor's proposal of community partnerships, is needed to save libraries

POOR PRATT:

March 13, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The moderator was about to end the meeting and Jane Shipley wouldn't allow it.

"Wait!" she cried from the back of the Northwood branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in a thin, frantic voice. "No, no! Wait -- it's not over. We've still got the most important part."

The most important part of the public meeting to discuss the problems of Baltimore's troubled library system -- a discussion that included directors of libraries in Detroit, Philadelphia and Washington -- was devoted to solutions.

Taking the microphone and addressing the large crowd of residents, librarians, Pratt trustees and politicians, Ms. Shipley rattled off the things people should do if they want to keep the library solvent.

"Pick up the phone first thing tomorrow morning, dial 396-3100 and ask for the mayor's office, tell him you want the libraries open," she said, her lips working to keep up with the pace of her thoughts. "Write letters; call [City Council President] Mary Pat Clarke; call [Public Works Director] George Balog; go to the meeting on crime this Monday night at War Memorial Plaza -- the mayor will be there -- and tell him if he wants to stop crime to put money in our schools and our libraries so we won't have to put money in our prisons later on; send letters to the editor; let people know that we are only the tip of the iceberg of people who care for these libraries.

"Please," she implored before giving up the mike at the meeting sponsored by WJZ-TV, "please do not forget the libraries when you walk out of here tonight."

For her impassioned plea, the latest in a series of stunts and protests Citizens for Pratt has staged since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ordered $1.3 million in Pratt budget cuts last November, Ms. Shipley was applauded.

And for the first time since the protests began to try to prevent libraries in Baltimore from closing, it appeared that the people had an unconditional ally in the Pratt's governing Board of Trustees.

"Nobody ought to believe that partnerships with community groups are going to solve this problem even if we were able to do it perfectly," said Robert Killebrew, past president of the trustees.

Neighborhood partnerships, which would use volunteers and alternative uses for library buildings to make up for losses in city funding, are Mayor Schmoke's solution for bailing out the chronically broke Pratt.

"The problem is very simple," Mr. Killebrew said. "There isn't enough support from the city, and we're not talking about a lot of money. We only get about $7.8 million from the city, which puts us in the bottom third of city libraries in this country. This is not a lot of money for the one institution in the city that everybody loves, and the trustees believe that it's time to demand" more.

Mr. Killebrew was followed by current trustee President James A.Ulmer III, who alerted the crowd to postcards pre-addressed to City Hall asking for "a DECENT budget for the Enoch Pratt Free Library." He held up a roll of stamps, saying he had plenty if anybody wanted some.

The trustees voted Wednesday to submit a budget proposal by the end of this month calling for all money needed to adequately operate its central library on Cathedral Street and 28 neighborhood branches.

Said Mr. Killebrew: "No one wants a situation like they have in New York when people walk by a boarded-up library and say, 'There's a relic of a formerly civilized society.' "

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