Roland Park residents vow to keep library 74-year-old building may not meet standards

May 01, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

After deciding unanimously that their library is worth saving, Roland Park residents will work on a plan to ensure that the library doors stay open.

"Now we have a mandate from the community," Susan Newhouse, who chairs the Library Committee of the Roland Park Civic League, said yesterday.

Newhouse's comments came after about 250 Roland Park residents packed a town meeting Wednesday in a church basement and unanimously raised their hands when asked if they wanted to keep their branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Noting that "we are known as individualists" in the affluent North Baltimore neighborhood, Newhouse expressed pleasure that Roland Park residents spoke with one voice on preserving the gray stone library at 5108 Roland Ave.

"I don't see why we can't keep it," said Phyllis Cadwalader. "It's amused me that 'the city that reads' is busy building stadiums TC and hotels."

While there is no immediate threat of closing the 74-year-old building, the meeting was called because of concern that it does not meet standards the Pratt has set for its branches in a strategic plan for four "mini-central" regional libraries to be built.

"We want to take a pro-active stance in partnership and dialogue with the Pratt," Newhouse said.

Because the Roland Park building, one of the city's 26 neighborhood branches, has 4,240 square feet, it falls short of the minimum 6,000 square feet recommended for the system's branches in the next century. Despite its size, the Roland Park library is one of the best-used in the city.

The group sees last year's closing of the old St. Paul Street branch in Charles Village and a second in Morrell Park as fates to avoid.

Charles Village community activists staged street protests last summer and filed a lawsuit to prevent the closing of its century-old branch. A Baltimore judge ruled that Pratt management had the right to proceed with the closure.

"It certainly was a wake-up call," Newhouse said, adding that the next step is to develop a community plan, based on expert advice, to present to the Pratt.

James C. Welbourne, the Pratt's assistant director, said last week that the Roland Park branch is not necessarily slated for closure.

According to the Pratt, decisions regarding the site of a northwest regional library that would serve Roland Park -- and its effect on existing branches -- aren't likely to be made until 2001.

Pratt Director Carla D. Hayden said her staff has been in contact with Roland Park library supporters over the issue.

Among those who spoke at the community meeting was Mariale Hardiman, the Roland Park Elementary and Middle School principal, who said her students were "heavily dependent" on the neighborhood library because the school has limited research resources.

A Park School teacher, Noreen Potempa, brought a letter from her first-grade class, warning of "serious consequences" if a library closes: "the people in the town [will] stop reading books."

Ann Koch, director of development for the Johns Hopkins University library, said the Pratt plan frames questions that could change the character of the Roland Park social and commercial center, which encompasses a post office, bakery, pharmacy and several schools.

"How important is it to have our public library branch within walking distance of our schools, banks and stores?" she asked.

The clear sense of the meeting was that the local library should not be viewed only as an information delivery service, but "the library as a broader concept of community," said Newhouse, "as a gathering place."

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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