Library offers pupils cards Attraction: Baltimore school officials hope giving out public library cards will encourage youngsters to read.

November 29, 1998|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Baltimore might call itself "the city that reads," but only one in four city public elementary schoolchildren are estimated to have library cards -- a rate that is below other suburban areas'.

The schools and the Enoch Pratt Free Library are trying to change that statistic and entice more children into the city's 26 public library branches.

"Our goal is to issue 10,000 new cards to Baltimore city schoolchildren," said Vanessa Pyatt, a spokeswoman for the school system. "We hope to exceed that goal." The program is aimed at 80,000 children in kindergarten through eighth grade.

For every child in Baltimore County, 44 books are checked out a year. In the city, three books are taken out a year per child, said Deborah Taylor, the Pratt's coordinator of school and student services.

"The only way the kids get better at reading is through practice. If we get more books in kids' hands, they will have more practice," Taylor said.

To speed the process, the Pratt is handing out applications for library cards to 140 elementary and middle schools, collecting them after they are filled out, and then delivering the library cards to the children at school.

Papa John's Pizza is offering an incentive. The company will deliver a party to the first classroom in each school that has every pupil sign up for a card -- 140 parties if every school participates.

Getting library cards into the hands of children is only the beginning of helping them negotiate their way to the libraries and read. The library's bookmobile goes to some schools, making it easier for children to borrow and return books. The school system is seeking financial assistance from foundations and businesses to pay for transportation from schools to library branches.

WBFF-TV (Channel 45) will develop and run public service announcements to encourage parents to get their children library cards and has agreed to provide links between businesses and the school system, Pyatt said.

With their library cards, children will get a brochure explaining how to use the cards and their responsibility to return books on time. "Our children's staff always spends time about what it is to be a library card holder," Taylor said.

The library card initiative is the Pratt's second program this year with the city schools. This year, 9,400 city pupils read 57,000 books through the Pratt's summer reading initiative -- a 119 percent increase from the year before.

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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