New aide plans to pitch Pratt services to public 'The library is the place to come'

November 19, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

James C. Welbourne has been around libraries long enough to know that if he waited for the public to take advantage of everything a library has to offer he would "wait forever."

As the new assistant director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Mr. Welbourne will be knocking on doors to sell Baltimoreans on a free resource that's been in their backyard for 107 years.

"Businesses and organizations assume that the library is in such a desperate situation that it can't take on any more. They think we're only looking for money," Mr. Welbourne, 51, said after his first week on the job. "I want to open the conversation in this city so agencies know that when they need information on employee safety, or a community group wants to start a mentoring program for at-risk kids, the library is the place to come."

Mr. Welbourne believes that if the Pratt aggressively pursues the public -- offering not only its books and data bases, but opening its buildings and volunteering its staff -- then the public will make sure the library remains well-funded and vibrant.

"The library . . . should be used by people trying to take back the streets from criminals -- the place to find out about tenants' rights, welfare reform and jobs. People have to stop thinking of the Pratt only in terms of whether it's going to close down," he said.

With an annual salary of $67,000, Mr. Welbourne will report directly to Director Carla D. Hayden and supervise the 28 neighborhood branches, services for children and youth, and the new Information Access Division.

The new department has not yet been organized because Dr. Hayden is waiting for the city Board of Estimates to approve a new position to head it. Once that happens, Information Access will use computer technology and traditional library methods to improve delivery of information.

One of the first computer programs Mr. Welbourne wants to install is a network called Neighbor Line, which he helped develop in 1988 at the Carnegie Public Library of Pittsburgh. The program is a compilation of efforts by community groups to fight problems like drugs and rats and runaways. Baltimoreans will be able to tap into the data base and later contribute what they've learned.

"It was my idea that the public library should be the lead agency for something like this, and it should be available in neighborhoods where the people are, and not downtown," he said.

Mr. Welbourne grew up on Bentalou Street, where his parents still live, and graduated from Edmondson High School in 1960.

From 1958 to 1964, he worked as a page at Central Pratt, rising to assistant stack supervisor. Encouraged by then director Edwin Castagna to pursue his "love of books and people in a beautiful environment," Mr. Welbourne left the Pratt for college.

In 1970, he earned a master's degree in library science from the University of Maryland. Mr. Welbourne was assistant director of the Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh from 1986 until Dr. Hayden recruited him.

"Coming back here," he said, "is like picking up a memory."

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