Mary Backer Smith, 100, headed Patterson Park branch library

January 11, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Mary Backer Smith, a former branch librarian at the Enoch Pratt Free Library and a well-known library authority, died Dec. 18 of a stroke at Broadmead. She was 100.

A resident of the Cockeysville retirement community since 1985, Mrs. Smith began her library career in 1919 after graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a master's degree in library science.

She moved to New York City, where she worked for the New York Public Library for a year until she married John William Backer, a Baltimore banker.

The couple moved to Walbrook in 1920.

During her first 20 years in Baltimore, she was a homemaker and raised two children. She was also active in the Windsor Hills Elementary School PTA and was Sunday school superintendent at Walbrook Methodist Church.

In 1933, Mrs. Smith and six other women formed a book club to discuss intellectual matters, current events and books. The group met weekly for 55 years, and Mrs. Smith was the last charter member active with the group when it was disbanded in 1988.

She began her Pratt career in 1942 with the bookmobile and later worked at branches on Washington Boulevard and in Locust Point and Brooklyn. She was named director of the Patterson Park branch, at Linwood Avenue and Fayette Street, in 1952.

She maintained decorum in the library, insisting that children behave. If they did not, she politely asked them to leave and called their parents to explain that they could return only if a parent accompanied them on their next visit.

Her article "Blueprint for Discipline" earned her fame and was used nationwide in training classes for librarians who worked with teen-agers in problem neighborhoods.

She reviewed books for the Pratt's Book Selection Committee and insisted that the library purchase only "good and lasting" literature rather than popular, short-lived contemporary novels of dubious worth.

She later said that one of her happiest moments was when a Patterson Park boy called on her one day wearing the uniform of a merchant marine officer.

"He came to say thank you and explained, 'Without the library to offer its books and a quiet place to study, I could never have made it,' " said her son, John M. Backer of Baltimore.

"That was her answer to 'why libraries?' She deeply believed that it could open doors into a larger, better world and turn dreams into realities," Mr. Backer said.

Mrs. Smith retired in 1963 but worked part time at the library until 1969.

In retirement, she developed and taught the library assistant curriculum at Catonsville Community College, consolidated three library collections at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and assisted in organizing the library at Baltimore Hebrew College.

The former Mary Askew was born in Cincinnati and graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a bachelor's degree in 1918. In 1953, she earned a second master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University.

Her husband died in 1948. She married Russell E. Smith in 1969 and moved to Severna Park. Mr. Smith, a civil engineer, died in 1985.

A memorial concert will be held at 2 p.m. March 2 at Broadmead, 13801 York Road in Cockeysville.

Mrs. Smith is also survived by a daughter, Mary Backer Hubbard of Toledo, Ohio; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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