Success of Pratt fund-raiser won't stop library closings

Money likely to restore remaining branches

April 16, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

As the city's Enoch Pratt Free Library faces public angst at closing five branches this summer, library officials have revealed that a yearlong fund-raising campaign is going well, but it will not save any of the candidates for closure.

One goal of the campaign is to recruit 100 new members of the Pratt Society, each of whom donates $1,000 to the system, said library spokeswoman Judy Cooper, who did not specify the amount raised.

Gifts are being matched by a $100,000 challenge gift made last year by the France-Merrick Foundation, said library director Carla D. Hayden, who sent out a fund-raising letter last week. In it, she said donations "will mean twice as much to the library," but she did not address the pending closures.

Last week, library officials identified 11 library branches as eligible for closure, based on size, use and budget constraints. A decision on the first five is expected in June, and the rest could close by 2006.

Cecil B. Flamer, library board of trustees chairman, said last week that the fund-raising effort is not a capital campaign directed at one specific building project. The money would probably be used to refurbish remaining branches, he said.

A capital campaign for building a large regional library is at least two to three years away and would require a feasibility study, he said. "We're not at that stage yet. We have to go about this in a very methodical way. We don't have a history of capital campaigns," Flamer said. "We certainly would not go into the market and seek significant commitments without specific uses identified for funds."

The most likely target for a capital campaign is the first of four regional libraries, the hallmark of a strategy unveiled by Hayden a few years ago. The first one is slated for the city's southeast quadrant, at Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street in Highlandtown.

"It's in the process of acquiring land," Cooper said.

On the general health of the Pratt system, she counted the number of cardholders as more than 200,000 and said the endowment is between $20 million and $25 million.

The Pratt's services, board memberships and patrons reach beyond the city's borders to anywhere in Maryland, Cooper said. About half of the library's $26.7 million annual budget comes from state and federal sources, while the rest is funded by the city. "But with each year, those funds have been reduced," the letter states.

Two more public meetings on library closings are scheduled this week: Wednesday at the Reisterstown branch, 6310 Reisterstown Road, and Thursday at the Patterson Park branch, 158 N. Linwood Ave. Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m.

Other Northeastern cities are not following Baltimore's path in closing library branches in favor of fewer, larger, newer ones. With the combination of private-public money, Philadelphia has embarked on an ambitious building program renovating and rewiring neighborhood library branches, started under former Mayor Ed Rendell during the 1990s.

"Those are the same things we need here, with branch libraries the same age and structure," said David Yaffe, 57, a longtime library activist.

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