Pratt's trustees going all out for bigger budget

BROKEN SILENCE

March 27, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

It was a scene without precedent in Baltimore: trustees of the Enoch Pratt Free Library chasing after motorists outside library headquarters on Cathedral Street, urging them to tell the mayor how important the Pratt is to them.

"The library has always been too quiet about its needs," said Thomas R. Hitchner, one of the trustees handing out petitions yesterday. "We've become an easy target for city budget cuts. We're here to change that. Working behind the scenes isn't enough."

Said trustee Joseph Sullivan: "The children who are learning to read are telling us they want more and we're giving them less."

The Pratt is in the midst of the city's annual budget process. Its current $16.6 million budget has forced the library to close Central Pratt on Fridays, reduce hours at branches and cut its new book and materials budget by $1 million.

Pratt officials say they need $21 million to adequately run the 28-branch citywide system. City budget officials have told the library to keep its request to $16.9 million, up 2 percent from this year. Inflation in the cost of books has been running about 10 percent a year.

"We need about $5 million more to provide what we consider to be decent service," said James Ulmer, president of the Pratt trustees. "We spend a third or maybe half as much [on materials] per capita as libraries around us. That means we don't have a good product."

Yesterday, a few trustees, library staffers and patrons handed out form letters addressed to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the City Council. The letters ask the public to answer the statement: "How the Pratt Library Has Helped Me."

Central Pratt was unable to help anyone yesterday, as several students and other people found out when they tried to get in.

"People need access to the library all the time," said Marsha Reeves Jews, another trustee.

As the letters are collected, they will be taped to the Pratt's street-level display windows on Cathedral Street to become one huge, collective cry to Mr. Schmoke. One letter in the campaign, designed for free

by the local advertising team of Michael Woolf and Bob Veasey, has already been returned by Mary R. Frain.

It reads: "As a senior citizen, I have filled many lonely hours with the books at the Pratt Library. A good book is like a good friend. I don't know how I could live without them."

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