Tight Budget Forces Pratt To Change Hours

July 06, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,liz.kay@baltsun.com

Because of tough budget constraints, the Enoch Pratt Free Library has closed some library branches on some days and ended late-night hours for its Telephone Reference Service.

"We had to try to make sure that the decisions we made wouldn't have a huge impact on our patrons," said Roswell Encina, director of communications for the Pratt.

The Central Library has shorter weekday hours as a result of the change. The library used to be open until 8 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and until 5:30 p.m. Thursdays.

Under the new schedule, it will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

The Central Library will still keep its seasonal Sunday hours from October to May, Encina said.

Three branch libraries (Hamilton, Herring Run and Light Street) are now closed on Fridays, Encina said. The Southeast Anchor Library will no longer have Sunday hours.

The libraries had the least amount of traffic on those days, he said.

No full- or part-time employees were laid off or furloughed because of cuts to branches or the reference hot line, Encina said. They all accepted vacancies elsewhere within the system.

Research librarians answered the last "Night Owl" Telephone Reference Service request on Tuesday after 15 years of late-night hours, Encina said.

Curious minds must now restrict their phone calls to the phone reference line between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

The Telephone Reference Service started more than 40 years ago, with reference librarians responding to queries for homework assistance or just the winning lottery numbers.

They received about 250,000 calls last year, Encina said. Answers are usually delivered within five minutes.

"People are still using it even in the age of Google and Twitter," he said.

However, only about 6,500 calls came in during Night Owl hours last year, the spokesman said.

For those with Internet access, reference help is still available outside library working hours, however.

The Pratt still operates its "Ask-a-Librarian" service. Questions can be submitted via a form on the library Web site, and librarians usually reply within two working days.

There is also 24-hour reference assistance available via the Maryland Ask Us Now!, a service that allows residents and students to chat online with librarians.

Other Baltimore departments have cut their night telephone services. In April, the 311 Call Center stopped taking non-emergency calls between 10 a.m. and 6 a.m.

However, residents can still submit their concerns online at baltimore.customerservicerequest.org.

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