Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he would like to arrange to send 10 or 15 librarians from the school system's secondary schools to the Enoch Pratt. The Pratt is under-staffed. A dozen librarians would be a great help. Now if they can just find 400 more, the Pratt will be back to its staffing level of 20 years ago.
The city schools can hardly provide that. If the city closed its entire school library system and sent to the Pratt all the professional, clerical and technical people assigned to school libraries, that would add only the 97 bodies now assigned to 164 school "library media centers" serving 110,000 students. Those figures suggest to us that the city school system is in about as bad shape as the Pratt, and maybe even worse. For comparison purposes, the Baltimore County school system has 191 professionals, clerks and technicians for 145 school library media centers serving 90,000 students.
The mayor said high school students who use libraries at all use the Pratt, not their school's. That's true. But an even larger number of other high school students in the city don't use the school library or the Pratt, because they never learned to or got interested in reading before they arrived in high school. Educators agree that if students don't gain an interest in reading and using libraries at an early age, it may be too late. So sending high school librarians to middle schools and, especially, to elementary schools would make much more sense than sending them to the Pratt.
If it were up to us, we would do that, then have the Pratt close a few of its under-used branches and send those librarians to the ** school system, too. But that doesn't seem to be politically possible.
As bad as the mayor's idea is, at least Mr. Schmoke is trying to do what we urged last January, which is to think of ways to re-invent the urban, metropolitan public library. We had in mind some merger or innovative cooperative arrangement between the "have-not" system of the city and its "have" suburban neighbors.
Some sort of merger or greatly increased cooperation between the have-not city school system and the have-not Pratt may improve things a little, or it may only slow down the deterioration (which would be desirable as an alternative to accelerated decay). Either way, this sort of thing should be well-thought-out and part of a much more comprehensive plan.