Residents decry loss of libraries

Pigtown plans to oppose move at meeting tonight

April 12, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm and Allison Klein | Jamie Stiehm and Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Residents in many Baltimore neighborhoods were outraged yesterday when they learned their communities stand to lose their libraries this summer.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library released a list of 11 branches Tuesday, five of which will be chosen to be closed because of budget constraints and what critics say is the Pratt's move toward large regional libraries.

In Pigtown in the southwest, neighborhood leaders decried the possible loss of their Washington Village library branch, saying that though it is the smallest in the city, it is perhaps the most necessary.

"It made me shudder when I found out it was on the list," said Michael Thompson, development director of Pigtown's Paul's Place Outreach Center, which brings children to the library to help them with their homework.

Neither of Pigtown's two elementary schools has a library. The only other public book collection in the area is at Diggs-Johnson Middle School, where 99 percent of eighth-graders failed to read at a satisfactory level, according to the latest state tests.

The next closest libraries are the central library downtown or the Cherry Hill satellite. For some in the neighborhood, the Pigtown library is the only link to the Internet. The city closed the nearby Morrell Park branch in 1997.

The Pigtown community is organizing carpools to bring residents to the public meeting about the closures at 6 p.m. today at the Brooklyn branch, 300 E. Patapsco Ave.

Other meetings on library closings will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Reisterstown Road branch, 6310 Reisterstown Road, and at 6 p.m. April 19 at the Patterson Park branch, 158 N. Linwood Ave.

Criteria to be considered in decisions on closing branches include size, census demographic data, distance to other branches, potential for alternative use, book circulation and renovation costs.

Four branches on the list are in the southeast, where the Pratt plans to build an $8 million regional library scheduled to be finished in 2003.

Another contentious point, residents said, is the closing of historical buildings. The Canton library, the last of the original four branches opened in Enoch Pratt's day, was built in 1886, library officials said.

Also on the list are branches built between 1900 and 1922 in Forest Park, Gardenville, Highlandtown, Govans, Fells Point and Clifton.

Kim W. Stallwood, president of the Canton Community Association, said there is a misconception that Canton is filled only with young professionals. "There are a lot of children and elderly people that use the library," he said. "It's a cherished jewel."

Ronald Owens, 65, a Forest Park leader and past president of the citywide Friends of the Enoch Pratt Free Library board, said he expects to help hand out several thousand postcards urging Mayor Martin O'Malley to maintain library services at the current level.

Owens said yesterday that he was braced for a campaign. "It's a huge shock, devastating. It was good to hear people talk about saving branches in general, not their particular one," he said.

Carla D. Hayden, the Pratt's director, plans to attend the public meetings this month and decide which five to close by June 13.

Maurice J. Travillian, assistant state superintendent for libraries, said the closings reflect the philosophy "that you can offer a lot more resources, staff, collection in a regional library than you can in a limited space. Some say you need branches close to the people. In library circles, both arguments are presented."

Jane Shipley, a Charles Village library activist, said much is at stake: "Everything on that list is in jeopardy. If we don't stop it now, we're going to lose them all."

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