Pratt Library reference books not scattered 'hither and...


April 19, 1997

Pratt Library reference books not scattered 'hither and yon'

Among the delights of working at the Pratt Library are the frequent reminders its staff receives of how much Baltimoreans care about their library.

The most recent evidence of this was the letter from Tom M. Padwa sent to Pratt administrators and also published April 8 in The Sun (''Reference room missed at Pratt'').

Rather than scattering reference materials ''hither and yon,'' as Mr. Padwa states, the library has brought the books most in demand even closer to customers entering the central library building.

The volumes are now shelved in bookcases along the Central Hall, in convenient proximity to the public catalog, electronic resources, and to staff on duty.

The relocation of books and other materials from the General Information Department was completed more than a year ago for compelling reasons:

The hundreds of feet of valuable first-floor shelf space taken up by collections of under-utilized volumes, most of which were costly duplicates already available in other departments;

The critical need for easily accessible space for the expanding, diversified audio-visual collection and services;

The growing number of reference resources (encyclopedias, indexes, directories, etc.) available in electronic formats, more up-to-date and space-saving than the print versions;

The budget-related reduction in staff, necessitating fewer service points.

Staff members in the General Information Department formerly were assigned to cover three public service points: the Information Desk in the Central Hall, the Reference Desk within the department, and the popular telephone reference service.

Of these, the Reference Desk was least busy. These same staff members are now able to concentrate their efforts on covering the Information Desk and the telephones in greater numbers, providing public service where the demand is greatest.

Those books that have been relocated to other departments are now part of comprehensive subject collections in which Mr. Padwa and other customers will find not just five or six books on a topic, as they may have in the old General Information Department, but 20 to 100 books in a subject area served not by ''generalists,'' but by subject specialists.

In addition, many of the books in the General Information Department were duplicate copies of books in the subject departments -- a luxury the library can no longer afford.

Much of the shelf space was taken by magazines, all of which have been moved to a consolidated Periodicals Department that provides access in a single location to the 4,000 current and 7,000 older titles the library carries. The depth of this collection and the easy access the new department provides were described fully in Scott Shane's excellent April 4 article, "On paper, not online."

Mr. Padwa's concern for school-age youth is shared by the Pratt Library. In January 1995, the library opened Student Express, a section of the central library devoted exclusively to reference and homework support books and other materials for middle- and high-school students, enhanced by computer resources, study tables, and a trained young adult services specialist. Last year, this service was extended to all Pratt libraries around the city.

We are grateful to Mr. Padwa and The Sun for giving us this opportunity to provide the newspaper's readers with a clarification of our reasons for departing from the traditional Reference Room concept.

We continue to seek innovative ways to enhance the delivery of library service to the public while recognizing budget constraints and making effective use of state-of-the-art technology and techniques.

Jean Jacocks


The writer is acting chief of the State Library Resource Center for the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Maryland welfare reform offers unique opportunity to overhaul failed system

As co-chairmen of the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Welfare Reform, we were extremely disappointed with the March 28 Opinion Commentary article, ''Welfare reform: the return of indentured servitude.''

Not only does it contain inaccurate facts regarding the laws governing welfare reform, it also misrepresents their intent.

During the past two years, Gov. Parris Glendening, the General Assembly and the Department of Human Resources have worked cooperatively to create a new welfare reform system that gives local social service departments the autonomy, flexibility and funding to design job programs and support services to break the cycle of welfare dependency.

As a result of welfare-to-work programs, thousands of Marylanders are now gainfully employed and there has been a 25 percent drop in Maryland's welfare roles in just two years.

The article would have Sun readers believe that welfare reform allows low-skilled and low-wage workers to be replaced by ''welfare trainees.'' This is simply not true, as it is strictly prohibited by federal law.

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