Mrs. Curry and the Pratt

October 16, 1992

It is unfortunate that Anna Curry, the director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, responded to the board of directors' request that she retire first with refusal then, when dismissed, with a lawsuit charging age, sex and race discrimination.

Mrs. Curry may honestly believe the board was wrong to conclude she is not a good director, but she surely cannot honestly believe that the board's decision was one based on prejudice.

All of the black members and all of the women members of the board voted against her, and the one vote for her was cast by a white male, as we understand it.

There are many things wrong with lawsuits such as this one. Not least is the fact that they cast a shadow on true instances of discrimination. People are still fired or otherwise abused professionally because of age, sex and race. To the degree that frivolous or spiteful or otherwise misguided suits charging discrimination contribute to a public opinion not disposed to believe such charges in general, they harm the cause of civil rights for everyone.

In this particular case, it would also be a shame if the debate over Mrs. Curry's charge of discrimination overshadowed the debate on the real question before Baltimore City now. That question is: What next for the Pratt?

This used to be one of the very finest urban libraries in America. It began to slide before Mrs. Curry took over, and that decline has not been slowed, much less halted.

Some of the causes are beyond the reach of mere directors. Directors can't impose and collect the taxes needed to run a library right. Certainly not in the Pratt's case, where local taxes make up less than half the budget.

Nor can directors make people read or use libraries in the other ways libraries try to serve their communities.

But directors are vital. An institution like the Pratt needs a leader who can get along with its political and quasi-public overseers and providers -- the city and state governments and the board of trustees and directors. It needs a leader who can inspire and motivate the staff.

It appears to us that, for whatever reason, Mrs. Curry is not now able to do that. Right or wrong, we can assure you our assessment is not based on her age, her sex or her race.

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