Pratt branches to begin opening on Saturdays

February 04, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Starting tomorrow, all 28 neighborhood branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library will be open every Saturday. It marks the first time in more than 10 years that citywide Saturday hours will be available at Baltimore's financially strapped public library system.

To pay for Saturday service, 22 of the libraries will close on a weekday, either Monday or Friday. The other six libraries will continue their Monday through Saturday schedule.

The new policy, announced yesterday by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, is a welcome change for patrons who have suffered through erratic service for years.

But the policy has angered branch librarians and their staffs, who say it was forced on them before they were ready.

One branch manager, who asked not to be identified, said, "We really don't have the staff to provide adequate Saturday service without all of us working every Saturday. And we were given a week's notice to do it."

"Libraries have to be open when people can use them," said Jane Shipley, head of the Citizens for Pratt advocacy group. "The librarian at my branch [2521 St. Paul St.] never complains about extra work, but I hope she can get some relief."

So do the 98 Pratt staffers who signed a Jan. 25 petition asking that Saturday service be postponed until September to allow time for them to rearrange their schedules. They also worry that closing on a weekday will limit group visits by students whose teachers depend on the Pratt to supplement small or nonexistent school libraries.

Service six days a week is the ideal, they say, but the Pratt cannot afford it.

Several branch managers said that the petition -- addressed to Florence Brown, the branch system chief -- was ignored by the new library director, Carla D. Hayden, and the assistant director, James C. Welbourne. Ms. Brown could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Dr. Hayden and Mr. Welbourne blamed poor communication between neighborhood librarians and downtown supervisors. They promised the staff there would be flexibility in filling Saturday shifts and predicted that some of the bureaucracy between the staff and the director's office would be removed.

Dr. Hayden said that staffers will be redistributed throughout the branches to guarantee fair schedules and that management changes at the branches will be announced soon.

Branch managers now report to the branch system chief; she reports to Mr. Welbourne.

"I was very upset when the petition arrived. It sent a message that I need to be in more contact with the branch managers," said Dr. Hayden, adding that she never intended to make every staffer work every Saturday.

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