Pratt 'Weeds' For New Reads

December 05, 1993|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Could you add 80,000 rose bushes to your garden without weeding out some old stuff?

That's approximately how many books the Enoch Pratt Free Library will add to its collection this year. To make room for the new titles, library staffers combed the stacks for surplus and found some 40,000 books now on sale to the public.

"You've got to weed in order to keep," says John Sondheim, chief of the Pratt's Maryland Room. "Let's not think about what it would be like if we kept every book we've bought since 1886."

The Pratt's annual used book sale -- made up of books the library no longer needs and those acquired as gifts -- began with a rush yesterday morning as buyers came in from the rain to flood the main hall of the Central Library.

Their quarry: $2 hardbacks, 50-cent paperbacks, magazines, record albums, maps, laser discs and sheet music culled from Pratt Central and its 28 branches.

One of the first inside was Frances Booke, owner of Marconi Restaurant. In minutes, she had extracted an armful of books from jammed tables and was looking for more. "I buy maybe 50 books and give them away to local hospitals, mostly Mercy," said Ms. Booke, who found a biography written by her brother. "That's him, Edgar Berman," she said, pointing to a copy of "Hubert: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Humphrey I Knew." "He was Hubert Humphrey's personal physician."

Last year's sale netted the Pratt about $6,000, which was added to the library's new book budget and shared by the branches and Pratt Central. Judging by yesterday's activity, staffers were confident of raising more money this weekend.

The Pratt's new materials budget this year is $1,933,313. Gordon Krabbe, the library's financial director, said $425,000 of that will be spent on serial subscriptions, videotapes, cassettes and compact discs. The rest will go for new books. And some of them likely will wind up on tables at next year's sale.

"Take 'Night Manager,' the new best seller by John LeCarre," said Jean Jacocks, chief of the fiction department. "It's very popular now. We have about 15 copies, but in a year or so, we won't need as many. Maybe only five. I'm sure we've made errors in how many copies we should keep -- either too little or too many -- but I can't think of any title that's disappeared completely."

Spy thrillers, mysteries, histories, biographies, car repair manuals, theology books -- even novels by Mel Torme -- were in abundance yesterday. One man found a book called "Calculus for Electronics" and asked a staffer if the information was still valid. "The calculus hasn't changed, but electronics have," the librarian said.

Michael Eckhardt, a 36-year-old property manager, was pleased to find a copy of "Rabbit At Rest," by John Updike. He was amused to see a somewhat disturbed woman rush by tables crammed with volumes while crying out: "Where's the books? Where's the books?"

Said Mr. Eckhardt: "I come every year for fiction and determine how long I stay by the annoyance factor. After I get bumped a dozen times, I leave."

To maintain interest over the course of the three-day sale, the Pratt doesn't put out all of its titles or collectors goodies at the same time. The main hall of the Pratt can hold about 5,000 books at a time, said Ed Mantler, chief of stacks and shelving, and tables were replenished from the basement as titles disappeared.

"I'm adding truckloads as fast as I can," Mr. Mantler said. "We normally sell about 25,000 books on a sale. I think we're going to do better this year."

Music fans were encouraged by the presence of 2,000 long-playing record albums -- albums that were gifts to the Pratt and are in better shape than the ones that have been borrowed from the library umpteen times.

Dean Sellers, 35, of Lauraville, picked up a Mozart. He passed on "Half Breed," by Cher.

Next to him, 28-year-old Marta Marsh looked over trays of glass lantern slides selling for a quarter each. She had never seen the slides before -- thick pieces of glass with illustrations sketched onto them to be projected on a screen -- and was enchanted. "Maybe I'll try to make stained glass with them or a night light," she said. "Who knows?"

As folks struggled to lug boxes filled with books to the checkout counter, registered nurse Mary "Terry" Roberts of West Cross Street looked over a table of biographies from Zelda Fitzgerald to Lyndon Johnson. Her daughter was searching through sheet music and scores of people around her scanned titles for something that spoke to them.

"It's nice to know that this many people still like books," she said.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library's annual used book sale at the Central Library, 400 Cathedral St., continues from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. today and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow.

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