New Chapter At The Pratt

August 18, 1992|By Mark Bomster | Mark Bomster,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is planning to transfer 10 to 15 high school librarians to the cash-strapped Enoch Pratt Free Library this school year -- a proposal that has drawn opposition from school librarians and at least one Baltimore City Council member.

Under Mr. Schmoke's plan, the school librarians would be shifted voluntarily. They would remain on the school system's payroll but would be detailed to the Pratt. In some cases, volunteers and paraprofessionals could fill the slots left vacant in the schools.

"It's definitely going to happen," said the mayor, who has been pushing the idea for at least two years. "This is simply a way of helping the Pratt, and helping some of our students to gain better library skills."

But Pamela Ann Johnson, a librarian at Arnett J. Brown Middle School, summed up her opposition to the plan this way:

"If we are pulled out of the educational setting to work in a public library . . . then we're robbing our children," said Ms. Johnson, who is to start work in the Walbrook Senior High School library this fall.

School librarians are specialists, and without them, those libraries "might as well be closed," she said.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge also opposes the plan, and 2nd District colleague Carl Stokes have mixed feelings.

"It's school librarians that teach children to fully utilize all libraries," Mr. Ambridge said. "I don't think it's a good idea to devastate one system for the benefit of another."

Mr. Stokes, who chairs the council's education committee, said he is inclined to support the transfer of librarians because high school libraries are underused.

But the city might be better off scaling back the Pratt and expanding school libraries, especially at the middle school level, he said.

"I would close a couple of branches -- three or four branches -- of the Pratt that people mostly don't use much anyway," he said. "You put your resources right in the schoolhouse."

Baltimore has 14 senior high schools and a total of 46 full-time library positions in all of its secondary schools, including high schools and middle schools.

The mayor maintains that high school libraries are underused, with most high school students relying on them as a place to study and to write reports.

"We just don't have enough money to support full-service libraries in all our branches and in the school system," he said.

The concept also has strong support from school Superintendent Walter G. Amprey.

"The Pratt libraries are having tremendous problems with staffing, money," Dr. Amprey said. "Why not have the staffing where the needs are? We need to encourage our youngsters to take advantage of it."

But school librarians maintain that students would be left without staff qualified to teach library skills and keep the program running.

"We are talking about a teaching job -- we are not talking about a librarian's job," said Nathalia Roberts, a librarian at Forest Park Senior High School.

"There are not enough libraries at the elementary level to give them the basic library skills, so you are busy at the high school level," she said.

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