New Pratt chief's work praised

August 01, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Sun Staff Writer

Talking to the old administration of Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Free Library was often like talking to a wall.

"We would plan with [former Pratt Director] Anna Curry and get agreements on projects," said library trustee Antonia Keane. "It would never happen."

In her first year as a replacement for Mrs. Curry -- who was fired for poor performance in 1992 -- Carla D. Hayden has worked to knock down the walls that were blocking progress at the Pratt for more than a decade.

And Dr. Hayden is receiving broad praise for her efforts to revive one of the "grandes dames" of American libraries -- from intense housecleaning to seeing the Pratt become the first public library in Maryland offering free access to the Internet.

"Outstanding," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is particularly pleased with Dr. Hayden's move to promote the Pratt as a resource for other city agencies.

Even Charles W. Robinson, the blunt and often caustic director of the Baltimore County Library, had nothing bad to say.

"She's been somewhere between excellent and magnificent in reinventing a library that at best was in the doldrums," said Mr. Robinson, who has reveled in eclipsing the long-suffering Pratt in recent years.

"Carla had to get the engine firing on all cylinders before trying to steer the ship. They say it takes five to seven years to turn a big public library around."

While recharting the Pratt's course with a determined, often brusque style, the petite, 41-year-old Dr. Hayden has wounded more than a few staffers in the 420-employee library system.

"She tells us she was hired to make the Pratt good again. We don't think she can do it without our input, and often it doesn't seem that she's interested in our input," said a neighborhood librarian, who, like other employees, asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. "She gives the appearance of listening, but not really hearing."

"We're worried she's an autocrat," said a downtown reference librarian. "She's made it clear that you can tell her anything, but I'd hesitate to do it."

Added a department head: "Carla can cut people off at the knees in group situations. She's not a leader yet, she's a boss."

Still, these same employees acknowledge that for the first time in years, significant changes are being made at library headquarters on Cathedral Street.

In addition to standard library work, they point to the installation of a security door on a basement restroom to thwart the homeless who plague the central library. Another change: construction of a spiked railing across street level windows -- "spikes of spite," protested homeless advocates -- to prevent loitering and sleeping on the sills.

Responding to the internal criticism, Dr. Hayden says she is simply getting things done, starting with basics that other systems take for granted. One example: updating the employees' policy and procedure manual, something the Pratt hadn't done since 1978.

"Maybe they expected something [sweeter] from this baby face," said Dr. Hayden, who was deputy director of the Chicago Public Library before being tapped in a nationwide search by Pratt trustees.

"Some people have been complacent, have not had to perform '' or be looked at very hard," she added. "This director is working just as hard as the clerk on the front line, and some have not been able to keep up.

'Sheer willpower'

"You can't please everyone when you're trying to move a system that was almost dead, but I have done it by sheer willpower. It's not magic."

Asked to list her first-year accomplishments, Dr. Hayden said her biggest chore was "simply moving the system out of its inertia."

She also mentioned:

* Resuming Saturday service in neighborhood libraries, despite protests from branch managers who felt the move was forced on them too quickly. In September, computer technicians will begin working Saturdays to support weekend service in the branch libraries.

* Sprucing up Pratt Central and the branches. Floors were scrubbed, and old furniture that had piled up in corners was thrown out. Meanwhile, John Richardson, a former Security Square Mall manager hired to run building operations, has left longtime employees marveling that work orders are now handled promptly.

* Creating an Information Access division headed by Patricia Wallace and bringing the entire library catalog on-line electronically. The new division, which coordinates the technology now revolutionizing libraries, helped the Pratt embrace the Internet, a global network reaching 130 countries.

Two key moves she did not mention were the forced transfer of longtime Pratt buildings chief Edward Bogier -- Anna Curry's second-in-command -- to the Department of Public Works and, without so much as a vacancy notice, the hiring of James C. Welbourne, assistant director of the Carnegie Public Library in Pittsburgh, as her assistant director.

Escaping the crash

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