Finding a new director to head the Enoch Pratt Free Library was not as easy as it used to be. The search committee says it was pleased with the qualifications of the applicants, and its final choice seems excellent, but a lot has changed since the last time this exercise occurred. That was in 1981. A finalist for the director's job then subsequently took a job in a city that was not competitive with Baltimore, in terms of library prestige or salary. He has done well there. This year when the Pratt's trustees sought him out, he would not consider the job. The Pratt's reputation is no longer pre-eminent -- and it can't pay him what he's making.
The Pratt was lucky to get so qualified a director as Dr. Carla Hayden. She was chief librarian and first deputy commissioner of the Chicago Public Library. Offered the commissioner's job (the top job) after she accepted the Pratt post, she rejected it. No doubt that was due in part to the situation in Chicago, where political and bureaucratic problems are far in excess of those here. But it was also because she believes there is a great opportunity here -- to restore to its former grandeur what was once one of the very best public libraries in the nation.
Whatever the reason, it is still a hopeful sign that someone would turn down a job running a $70-million-a-year library system to run Baltimore's $18 million operation (and take a lower salary). The last three Pratt directors came from lower positions or smaller cities than Baltimore.
The best way the city (and state, which also funds the Pratt) could respond to a new director's faith in the library's future would be to give her more resources and more freedom. By more resources we mean more money for books and staff. By more freedom, we mean the right to treat the system as a coherent whole, not as a collection of branches that must serve the narrow interests of members of the City Council.
One problem at the Pratt (and other urban libraries) is that unprecedented educational and recreational changes occurred over a period of nearly two decades, especially among the young and among the poor. Dr. Hayden is both young enough (she's 40) and experienced enough (various library assignments in Chicago, plus a professorship at the University of Pittsburgh) to be able to bring a fresh approach and competent management skill to a truly daunting task.