Pratt director due soon Search narrowed to two candidates

April 25, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The struggling Enoch Pratt Free Library, now in its fourth month without a chief of staff, is down to two choices for a new director -- the deputy director of the Chicago Public Library and the head of a Colorado library system.

A third finalist, Alex Boyd, who directs the Newark (N.J.) Public Library, said Friday that he will withdraw his application and stay in Newark.

The candidates who survived cuts from nearly 100 applicants are Carla D. Hayden, 40, deputy director in Chicago, and Bernard A. Margolis, 44, who heads the Pikes Peak Library System in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Pratt trustees are expected to fill the top job, which pays about $86,000 a year, in two weeks.

Whoever is chosen to lead Baltimore's 106-year-old public librar -- once a jewel among American libraries with a reputation akin to that of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the world of medicine -- will face daunting challenges from day one.

"Charisma without substance is not going to work in ou situation," said James A. Ulmer, president of the Pratt trustees.

The new director will be asked to lead a library that for nearly decade has been too poor to staff and operate each of its 28 neighborhood branches full time; that barely keeps up with basic building repairs; and that is an estimated 20 staffers short of restoring Friday service -- absent for 17 months -- at its grand Central library on Cathedral Street.

"When you're sick, you concentrate on surviving," is the way Baltimore professor of library science put it a year ago when the Pratt tried to close eight branches.

The new Pratt chief will be working with a dedicated but overextended and somewhat demoralized staff that has seen its ranks shrivel from 785 in the early 1970s to 392 for the coming fiscal year; a staff that presides over a vast collection rich in history but in danger of becoming outdated because of perennially meager book budgets.

"We cannot continue to do what we're doing," said Mr. Ulmer, whosees the Pratt's failure to buy books in adequate numbers as more disturbing than the possibility of closing branches. "We simply don't have the money to produce a good enough product."

The new library chief will be working for a mayor who has proclaimed Baltimore "The City That Reads." But Mayor Kurt L. ** Schmoke has said more than once that, in the face of chronic money woes, he prefers fewer libraries delivering quality service to 28 inadequate branches.

And the new chief will be serving residents with strong ties t their neighborhood libraries -- people who protest every time the city has tried to close branches, hold bake sales to raise money, and volunteer at threatened branches even though many of them are underused.

In short, the new director may have to borrow magic books t learn how to juggle all the problems that led the trustees to oust its last director, Anna Curry, who took retirement in December after the board voted unanimously to fire her.

"We need someone to come in and make the hard decisions and then explain those decisions to the staff," said Wesley Wilson, a 24-year Pratt veteran who worked in the director's office under Mrs. Curry. "Someone to bring healing to a staff that has had trouble staying focused [on library service] because of all the cuts. This staff is going to be more than willing to unburden their problems [on a new boss], and it's going to take a special person to sift through it all, prioritize them, and pull together technology to meet public demands.

"We need the big picture realized," said Mr. Wilson, adding tha the staff needs and wants someone to fraternize with them, rouse them and comfort them. "It's going to take a special person."

That person, said Jane Shipley, an aggressive leader in th activist Citizens for Pratt group, must be a director who will not only fight to sustain Baltimore's library, but to revive and invigorate it.

"We want someone who won't liquidate our assets for money, who won't sell off the audiovisual department or the rare books," said Ms. Shipley, who has led many dramatic protests -- such as borrowing every book of a branch to show what a library with empty shelves looks like -- since 1991, when the city threatened to close eight branches.

"We want someone who would raise staff morale, which is abysmal. Someone who will bring in some money," she said.

The current Pratt budget is $16.6 million, not enough for the library to staff the long-closed Govans branch even though it has been renovated. Next year's budget has been proposed at $17.9 million, which includes money to open Govans 20 hours a week, buy $500,000 more in books than this year and which holds the line on everything else.

Recently, Citizens for Pratt -- along with the less vocal Friends of the Pratt and library staff and trustees -- collected about 9,600 letters to Mayor Schmoke from Pratt users who love their neighborhood libraries.

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