'Weird hours' may cut library use Study of Canton residents looks at use of Pratt branch.


People don't go to the neighborhood library in Canton as much as they used to.

Community leaders suspect this might have something to do with the fact that the historic branch at Ellwood Avenue and O'Donnell Street isn't open as often as it once was.

A good picture of library usage began to emerge over the last three months as volunteers surveyed 230 Canton residents, 52 percent of whom said they use the Enoch Pratt Free Library less now than they did a year ago.

"A lot of people said they had switched to Highlandtown or the [Baltimore] county library because of the weird hours here," said Barbara Ruland, who helped coordinate the survey for the Southeast Community Organization. "We're hoping the Pratt will FTC give us more hours in the evenings and on weekends" and patrons will return.

The survey covered people between ages 10 and 90 of diverse backgrounds: professionals, homemakers, blue-collar workers and retirees.

An even 80 percent said they used the branch primarily to borrow books.

Almost half said they wanted the library open on Saturdays.

Seventy percent said they would participate in community programs in the library's meeting hall with movies, crafts, crime prevention, foreign language classes and neighborhood history the most popular topics.

And more than 30 percent said they were willing to pitch in and help the branch do a better job.

In the last five years, the Canton library has operated under many different schedules -- at times a mere two days a week -- as the underfunded Pratt scrambled to find the money to keep the doors open.

The Canton branch, the last of Baltimore's original neighborhood libraries opened by Enoch Pratt in 1886, was one of eight neighborhood branches scheduled to be closed late last year because of city budget cuts.

In the protest that erupted to save the branch, a strong group, Friends of the Canton Library, emerged through the efforts of SECO and the staff of Canton Middle School.

Volunteers from the school and the community group helped distribute the survey -- whose conclusion cautioned that many residents of the waterfront community don't use the library at all.

For the most part, said Pratt director Anna Curry, the library didn't uncover anything library administration didn't already know.

"We knew that they enjoyed their library, we knew there's been a decline and we knew they wanted more hours," said Mrs. Curry. "It's a little premature for me to say that I can guarantee more hours, but I'll work to make that happen."

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