The Pratt: another crisis

April 17, 1996|By John T. Starr

THE SIGN on the door of the Govans Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Bellona Avenue says ''Open.''

Should you go in late in the afternoon, you will see school children clustered around tables doing homework amid piles of reference books. By the rack of recent books there will be an adult or two looking for a new mystery or other novel, or, perhaps, a biography or a book on current events.

This library is an educational institution and a cultural center. It is a busy place, a neighborhood treasure.

The scene is repeated all over the city in library branches from Govans in the north to Cherry Hill in the south, from Edmondson Avenue in the west to Canton in the east. Hardly a section of the city is neglected. The 25 branches are located so that users can get to them quite readily.

It is a well integrated system, built up over the years, aimed at being the most useful to those who use the Pratt.

Now, however, the system is threatened. Unless Mayor Schmoke wins a tax increase, the Pratt's budget will be cut substantially. This would require layoffs, reductions in the purchase of books and other items, and the closing of a good number of branch libraries. And this at a time when more money, not less, is needed in order to provide the services that the citizens and Baltimore desire and need.

Library out of reach

Closing branches would make it hardly possible for many children -- or adults, particularly the elderly -- to get to the more distant remaining branches. Operating hours for the branch libraries already have been reduced. Book purchases have been curtailed. Staffs have been reduced so that a good deal of doubling-up is needed to get the work done.

What effect would the proposed cut have on the total city budget? The Pratt share of that budget is less than 2 percent. The savings achieved by cutting the Pratt's share would be peanuts, and mighty few peanuts at that. It would be out of all proportion to the harm done to the library system.

What other cities do

How do other cities comparable to Baltimore treat their public library systems? A study last year showed that while Baltimore spends $13 per capita on its library system, Cleveland spends $23 and Newark, $32. Think of it. Evidently Newark appreciates the value of its libraries; evidently it is a city that reads.

Libraries also have economic value, something that is hardly ever considered. Would you locate your business or industrial plant in a city that cuts the budget of its nationally renowed public library system while hypocritically boasting that it is ''The City That Reads?'' For one thing, you would be suspicious of the good sense of the city administration.

Good sense on the part of those responsible for the city's budget would dictate that the Pratt portion of that budget be increased, rather than reduced. It is important that the sign on the door of the Govans Library continue to say ''Open.'' And on the doors of the other branches, too.

John T. Starr writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 4/17/96

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