A chance to be heard Pratt's future: Hearings offer public a voice on city library's strategic plan.

October 24, 1997

THE FIGHT over closing the Pratt Library's St. Paul Street branch occurred because the public had no input. Pratt officials made a decision to shutter the St. Paul and Morrell Park branches after the Pratt's budget was cut. Other closings are possible if the Pratt proceeds with a strategic plan it has been developing. But the public must have a say in what happens.

The library has scheduled six public hearings on its plans. The first one, Tuesday night at Harbor Hospital Center, drew a modest audience of 50 people. They voiced concern that the small size of the Washington Village branch makes it ripe for closure. They got assurances that if such a decision is made it will be based on improving library service, not reducing it.

Last year, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke tried to talk the Pratt into closing a third of its 28 branches to save money. The Hampden, Roland Park, Highlandtown, St. Paul, Morrell Park and Clifton Park branches were mentioned by the mayor, who suggested building a large branch on the Poly-Western campus.

Since then, the Pratt has issued drafts of a strategic plan in

which five or more branches may close, but they are not named. The plan would increase service by building four large library centers, one in each quadrant of the city. Computer stations with books would be located at recreation centers and kiosks with computers installed at malls and the Inner Harbor.

Such big plans require big money. New "mega-branches" may cost $45 million each. Hearings give people a chance to voice their feelings before voting on a bond issue. The forums give officials a chance to show how service can be improved if small branches are closed.

The remaining hearings, each at 6 p.m., will be held Monday at Messiah Lutheran Church, Potomac and O'Donnell streets; Oct. 30 at Northwestern High, 6900 Park Heights Avenue; Nov. 3 at the Urban League, 512 Orchard Street; Nov. 10 at Douglass High, 2301 Gwynn Falls Parkway, and Nov. 11 at Northwood Recreation Center, 1517 Winford Avenue. Anyone who doesn't want to be surprised by decisions affecting branch libraries should attend.

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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