A PROPOSAL BY Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to close 10 of the 28 branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library deserves the public outcry it is receiving. It's not that every branch is sacred and should never be closed. But any closing should be the result of careful study and the establishment of viable service alternatives for neighborhoods. No such study has occurred.
Past experience should have taught the mayor that no city neighborhood will voluntarily give up its library branch. Many branches have become anchors of their communities, especially safe, quiet places where children can gather after school to do homework while waiting for parents to return home from their jobs.
People rose up in arms when eight branches were threatened with closure during a 1991 budget crisis, and that desperate proposal came from the library board of trustees. That the mayor this time decided to float the idea of shutting down branches without first consulting library officials makes the proposal suspect.
More political than practical is the mayor's suggestion that "it might make more sense to have three really well-run branches in each council district." Thee statement is aimed at appeasing City Council members, not at determining where library services may be altered and where they must remain intact. Some council districts may not need three branches, others may need more. Again, the situation must be studied.
A three-year strategic plan presented by library director Carla D. Hayden earlier this year suggested shuttering as many as six branches. But her outline also called for two to four new branches, the first since 1971, designed and wired to deliver vast library services by computer. In the meantime, Pratt officials have been studying all libraries to determine what buildings require renovations or replacement.
It would have made more sense for Mr. Schmoke to announce he is working with Ms. Hayden to implement the Pratt's strategic plan. Instead, he unilaterally starts talking about closing branches, giving the impression that this is a ploy to scare council members into supporting his proposed 10 percent increase in the city income tax. Politics as usual.
Pub Date: 5/01/96