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City that reads? Library funding: Protest of the Waverly branch's reduced hours signals bigger problem


PEOPLE UPSET that the Enoch Pratt Free Library is planning to trim the hours of its Waverly branch found a good way to demonstrate their displeasure. They read. About 50 people participated in a read-in last Tuesday. They won the battle, but are losing the war.

The library has delayed implementing the shorter hours until after it has discussed alternatives with community representatives. Whatever they work out, though, isn't likely to solve all the financial problems leading to the proposed reduction of hours at Waverly and other branches. The Pratt needs more money.

Even with the one-time shot in the arm it received this fiscal year -- $1.2 million from the city's sale of Harrison's Pier Five hotel and restaurant -- the Pratt is having a hard time meeting the public demand for library services. In trying to be fair and still make ends meet, library director Carla Hayden wanted to reduce the hours of some branches so that others could have their hours increased.

The Waverly branch, for example, is currently open 49 hours a week while the Cherry Hill, Clifton and Morrell Park branches are each only open 22 hours. That's not fair. But neither is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's answer is the same one he settles on too frequently: Ask the state for more help. But with the state crying over the continued loss of federal dollars, that won't happen. The legislature currently provides about $4 million of the Pratt's $20 million budget.

The mayor of "the city that reads" must do more to improve library funding. He needs to get together with the new League of Library Voters, Friends of the Library and the library board and staff to map a better fiscal course for the Pratt. The public says it wants better library service; Mr. Schmoke should find feasible ways for the public to pay for it.

The Pratt is already helping itself by using the interest from a $15 million endowment fund to purchase special equipment and to pay for some service enhancements. The library plans to hire a development director who can spearhead a fund drive to increase that endowment. But that's only part of the solution. City government also has to find a way to make a greater financial commitment to the Pratt. It's what the people want. They want to read.

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