Pratt Plan Proposes Regionals, Shuts Branches

Article excerpt

Touted by officials as a means to bring the Enoch Pratt Free Library into the next century, an ambitious plan to build four regional libraries and upgrade electronic access has Baltimore library activists and other community members angry over branch closings and curtailed services.

The 30,000-square-foot regional libraries - "mini-centrals," as Assistant Director Jim Welbourne termed them - would be located in each quadrant of the city. In addition, said Welbourne, most branches will be rehabilitated and expanded "to bring more state-of-the-art computer services into the neighborhoods that are now only available at the main library."

The plan also involves erecting "Smart Link" centers, offering computer access to library services and mini-collections in community centers and other sites around the city. The library is already in the process of installing computer kiosks in the city's 29 Police Athletic League centers. Welbourne said that this, rather than new branches, reflects the direction of the library's future expansion efforts. "We can have a Pratt presence anywhere," he noted.

A construction bond measure covering the first phase of the effort - construction of one regional and two or three branch renovations, as well as planning for a second regional - will go on the November 1998 ballot. Total cost of the plan is estimated at $35-$45 million.

In order to streamline services, the plan will close eight to 10 branches. Many of the existing branches - are smaller than the 6,000 square feet recommended in the plan, and some are over 100 years old (one, the Canton branch, was part of Enoch Pratt's original 1882 gift to the city).

Two sudden closures

In early August, several weeks after the plan was presented, the library announced that as an immediate costcutting measure two branches - Morrell Park and St. Paul Street - would be forced to close at the end of August. Welbourne explained that the city failed to come up with a $1-million allocation that it had provided at the last minute in the past two years. …