Local library is overdue Books: Lakeland wants to build and operate what would be Baltimore's first independent, community-run library in memory.

June 06, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Angie Adams, a sixth-grader at Lakeland Elementary-Middle School, has a six-page report on court procedures due tomorrow. She is interested, and has made time to write the paper. But without reliable library service close to her neighborhood, she is struggling to find the books she needs.

"I'm frustrated," says Angie, 12. "We could really use a branch around here. I'll probably have to wait for books until someone can give me a ride to the Pratt downtown."

The concerns of Angie and other readers, young and old, have sparked a movement in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Lakeland to build and operate what would be Baltimore's first independent, community-run library in memory.

The movement in the working-class neighborhood -- nearly 5,000 people near the city limits -- is fueled by frustration with the budget-strapped Pratt Library system and cuts in library services in nearby Baltimore County. Residents and officials at Lakeland Elementary-Middle School have begun scouting locations and seeking financial support for the project.

Linda Williams, president of the Lakeland Neighborhood Association, says she envisions a facility that will be "a library TC and more." Besides circulating books and reference materials, the library would provide a variety of programs: homework help, tax assistance for senior citizens and General Educational Development (GED) classes.

"That's a unique effort, an idea we haven't seen before, and I'd like to know more about it," says Jim Welbourne, assistant director of the Pratt. But he and other Pratt officials caution that maintaining a library will be difficult for residents, particularly without a staff of paid, professional librarians.

Reductions in service by the county and city library systems have affected readers throughout the region, but residents in Lakeland have been hurt more than most.

A decade ago, Lakeland readers had several local options. The city library system's bookmobile stopped regularly in the neighborhood, a county library branch in Lansdowne was within walking distance and the school library was well maintained.

But at least eight years have passed since the bookmobile stopped coming, Pratt officials say. Baltimore County closed the Lansdowne library branch in 1993 to help make up a $2 million budget shortfall, says Jean-Barry Molz, deputy director of the county library.

And Lakeland Elementary-Middle School administrators say they no longer have the money to employ a librarian for the school's collection. That aging library is insufficient for increasingly complex research projects, students and parents say.

Williams says a handful of retired senior citizens in the neighborhood have promised to run the proposed library. The Police Department also might support the effort if the facility is big enough to include space for a Police Athletic League center, Southern District Lt. Goldie Phillips says.

At Lakeland Elementary-Middle, administrators are helping to write proposals for private and government grants to buy books and materials for the library. Teachers have volunteered to run programs, and the school might donate two computers, says Principal Judith Dixon.

She says having a library in the community is vital if students are to develop the problem-solving skills that are measured on state performance assessment tests.

Williams, the neighborhood president and a substitute teacher at the school, has become the prime force behind the project, and that bodes well for the proposed library. City officials speak of her with a mixture of reverence and fear; by mobilizing the community, she successfully lobbied for the renovation of Wegworth Park this year.

She has examined a handful of vacant or decaying buildings as possible sites. She also is approaching local businesses about the possibility of financing an inexpensive prefab building on a vacant lot. "It's going to happen," Williams says. "I don't think it's going to happen overnight, but it's going to happen. I may have to call in some favors."

For now, Diane Homan will continue to take her 10-year-old twin daughters to the county library branch in Arbutus, a 10-minute drive she has time to make only on weekends.

It is a common problem. Gia Thompson, a seventh-grader and a member of the school's student council, says many parents don't have cars. If assignments don't allow students at least one weekend to get to a library, the papers often won't be completed on time.

"It's a big problem," says Gia, 12, who is looking for materials for a year-end report. "I need more books and periodicals on Napoleon Bonaparte. Do you know where I could find some close to here?"

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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