Library Turnaround

January 28, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The Patterson Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library has been turned around.

Literally.

The front is now the back.

The back is now the front.

And the neighborhood library where Linwood Avenue crosses Fayette Street opens for business tomorrow for the first time since early 1990.

"We managed to get public officials to keep their promise to reopen the library," said Pat Hartley, a community activist and president of the newly formed Friends of the Patterson Park Library. "It's been heartening to see people from all around the park come together on a common goal."

"This shows that somebody is paying attention to what the neighborhood wants," said Ed Rutkowski, president of the Baltimore-Linwood Association when the group won a city grant to landscape what was the library's backyard, a grassy area that separates Fayette Street and Pulaski Highway.

Old Branch No. 13 was tattered, gray and overstocked with GED guides and auto repair manuals when it closed for renovations under former Pratt Director Anna Curry. Because perennial budget woes forced Mrs. Curry to consider closing neighborhood libraries, patrons of the Patterson Park branch feared it would never reopen.

But No. 13 now sparkles with $438,000 in renovations funded by city, state and federal money.

Except in emergencies, Pratt branches will no longer close for renovations, library officials say. Under Director Carla D. Hayden, the focus for capital projects will shift to computers and electronic delivery of services.

The roof-to-basement make-over at No. 13 includes a new entrance that looks out on the spruced-up park (the old entrance faced a bus stop); personal computers for public use; and a bilingual librarian and book collection to serve the area's growing Hispanic population. It's the first branch in the Pratt system to offer services in another language.

"The library will be a bridge between one language and the other," said Angel L. Nunez, pastor of Spanish Christian Church on South Eton Street. "We encourage our people to educate themselves in the English language, but bilingual services are needed to help them come into the culture. There's a lot of fear and intimidation when you walk into a place and can't communicate with anyone."

Members of the area's nearly 600 Latino families can talk in their native language with assistant librarian Ann Gosnell. Part of the library will be set aside for titles in Spanish, many donated by the East Baltimore Latino Organization.

"When public libraries first got started in this country, one of their major roles was helping acculturate immigrants into the United States," said George Needham, director of the American Library Association's public library division.

Promoting pride

"It started to come back with a flourish in the 1980s with more ethnic awareness, especially Spanish," he said. "But instead of libraries being used to stir the melting pot of homogenized American culture, we're seeing them promote pride in an individual's background."

The library branch -- opened in 1910 with money from philanthropist and library pioneer Andrew Carnegie -- joins the Perez Grocery on Kenwood Avenue and a handful of Hispanic churches as a place for individuals to nourish their background in the neighborhood just north of Patterson Park.

Ms. Gosnell and branch manager Judith Carr, a former librarian for Cardinal Sheehan elementary school and the Baltimore County library system, will be on hand at tomorrow's reopening to meet the community they will serve. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Dr. Hayden also will be present for events beginning at noon.

The program will include music by a Patterson Senior High School band and ethnic dances by Greek, Polish and Latino folk groups, and neighborhood residents Ren and Marion Brenna will screen a video history of the library.

Cultural needs

Bucking a decades-long pattern of middle-class flight from the city, Mr. and Mrs. Brenna moved to East Baltimore from Anne Arundel County. The Brennas, who are devoted to the area though it is struggling to maintain stability against inroads of drugs and crime, bought the ice-cream parlor at Baltimore and Curley streets.

"There's a lot of culture in this neighborhood, and it wants to be satisfied beyond auto repair manuals," said Mr. Brenna, who discovered that Branch No. 13 was designed by Joseph Evans Sperry, architect of the Bromo Seltzer Tower. "We're hoping the library becomes a great place for people to hang out. People have missed it."

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