The Enoch Pratt Free Library opened three of its neighborhood branch libraries exclusively to students yesterday as "homework centers," geared specifically to help youngsters do schoolwork.
The centers, operating out of Pratt branches in Cherry Hill, Morrell Park and Clifton Park, are expected to provide students with what many families in Baltimore cannot: reference books and literate adults who know how to use them.
"Books aren't available in a lot of homes around here," said Ruth Redmond, a retired librarian from the Clifton branch at 2001 N. Wolfe St.
"The library should be the resource. Many of the parents can't read or don't know the new subjects," said Ms. Redmond, who was present yesterday at the opening of the Clifton homework center.
"A lot of kids need a quiet place to study and some help doing their homework," said Robert S. Killebrew, president of the Pratt's board of trustees. "We're targeting a [circulation] market that we're most likely to get a response from.
"We want them to wear these places out."
The homework centers, open to the public on school days from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and staffed by one librarian and an assistant, are the idea of Florence S. Brown, chief of the Pratt's 28-branch system. Ms. Brown said the New Orleans Public Library also operates homework centers. "A year and a half ago, I saw that no one was using these libraries in the morning," said Ms. Brown, explaining why the branch hours were cut from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"But they were doing great business in the afternoon after school let out, and I realized that we can't just keep doing the same things. The money and staff aren't there," she said.
All but about 50 books at the centers are for students, Ms. Brown said, and the staff at each center will be free of all administrative work to help children do their school assignments.
"Kids ask for the same material over and over as the school year goes on -- on Indians, black history, science projects, the states," said Wendy L. Allen, a children's librarian at the Pratt's Light Street branch in South Baltimore.
"So we ordered extra books on all of these things."
If a child needs information not available at Cherry Hill, Clifton or Morrell Park, a librarian can phone in a request to the nearest full-service branch of the Pratt or to the Central Pratt on Cathedral Street, and the material will be faxed to the homework center.
If the program really catches on, the centers are going to need a lot of support to help dozens of students do their homework at the same time.
"We're going to be spending more time finding materials for specific school assignments, and we need volunteers to sit with kids one on one," said Juanita Pilgrim, librarian at the Clifton branch, which alone must serve five elementary schools.
Ms. Pilgrim, who has spent 10 years at the Clifton branch, said she is going to be looking to retired librarians such as Mrs. Redmond, students from nearby Lake Clifton-Eastern High School who might be able to earn scholastic credit and parents from the neighborhood.
"As long as they're able to work with children," she said.
"And can read," Ms. Brown added.
Pratt Library's homework centers
All centers open 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Cherry Hill, 2492 Giles Road, 355-4550, near MTA line No. 28.
Clifton, 2001 N. Wolfe St., 675-1534, near MTA line No. 13.
Morrell Park, 2446 Washington Blvd., 644-5511, near MTA line No. 11.