Last longing looks at books

Five branch libraries shelve their volumes and lock their doors

`My childhood library'

September 02, 2001|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Yesterday, the last day in the lives of five city libraries, played to a small but sad audience.

As Carla D. Hayden, director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, made a farewell tour to thank librarians in all five branches she chose for closure, many people paid their last respects to beloved neighborhood beacons in all corners of Baltimore, from Pimlico to Fells Point.

One woman from far outside the city made a pilgrimage to her past.

At the Gardenville branch in the 5400 block of Belair Road, Judy Brubach, a Carroll County school librarian, walked out the door and down the stairs clutching 10 of her favorite girlhood books, which she had just checked out.

"This was my childhood library," she said. "I'm a librarian because of it. I could walk here."

Brubach, 46, remembered giving oral reports to the librarian and receiving gold stars in the 1925 brick building that she said was once her second home. Among her books was a collection of Carl Sandburg's favorite songs, A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner, and Toastmaster's Treasures, a book she read as a child with her father.

"Can you tell I'm a little sentimental?" she asked.

Inside, a 13-year-old boy studied a computer screen displaying an Internet Web site about Aaliyah, the young singer who died Aug. 25 in an airplane crash. DeSean Hundley, who spent time at the branch "mostly every day" this summer, said he read young adult fiction, including a Harry Potter book.

"She shouldn't be closing ... libraries," DeSean said, referring to Hayden, as she surveyed the reading room.

But Hayden said yesterday she had no second thoughts about the decision she made in July in the face of city budget cuts.

The affected employees have new assignments in nearby branches, but they will spend this month clearing shelves and boxing books in the closed branches, Hayden said. The city has found other uses for the buildings, she said.

Hayden declined to discuss why the five libraries were closed. "There was no one deciding factor. It's an entire system. It was a complicated process, and they weren't isolated decisions," she said.

Meanwhile, the branch librarians carried on.

"We're a full-service branch until 5 o'clock today," said Charlotte "Sally" Young, the children's librarian at Gardenville, who has been reassigned to the Reisterstown Road branch.

Young was recommending books to Leslie Wallace, a mother who home schools her three children.

"That's another reason the closing is difficult," Wallace said. "They've [librarians] always been a tremendous help."

The mood also was downbeat at the Fells Point library in the 600 block of S. Ann St., where a line of Walt Whitman poetry graced the front desk: "Shut not your doors to me, proud libraries."

"Not happy," said Joanne Masopust, a juvenile probation officer, as she left the small brick library, a gift to Baltimore from the Pittsburgh steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1921.

Carrying a John LeCarre book, The Constant Gardener, which she had just checked out, Masopust wondered aloud why Mayor Martin O'Malley had not asked the Baltimore Orioles or Ravens professional sports teams to help save a library branch from closure.

She explained that she showed up yesterday because "I wanted to say goodbye."

Across Ann Street a woman almost as old as the library said she owed her American citizenship to it. "I learned the language, the Constitution. Every day I studied. Without that library, I would never have that piece of paper."

Born in Bucharest, Romania, Margaret Mooney married an American soldier after surviving a German labor camp during World War II and immigrated to the United States.

Mooney, 76, said she gave hand-sewn teddy bears to the Fells Point library staffers yesterday morning to express her thanks: "That's my heart, [gone] out of this neighborhood."

The Fells Point branch building will become a center for the Education-Based Latino Outreach organization, Mona M. Rock, a Pratt spokeswoman, said yesterday.

Hayden's other stops yesterday afternoon were to the Dundalk and Hollins-Payson branches, and finally the Pimlico library in the 5000 block of Park Heights Ave.

The small reading room was sparsely populated. Among the browsers were three young Mormon missionaries in ties, and 8-year-old twins, Justin and Jeremy Cockrell, who attend Pimlico Elementary School.

Jeremy, who read Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss one more time, said: "I'm mad because I like this library very much."

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