Readers navigating the stacks at the Patterson Park branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library are drawn to writing on the wall: "Coleccion En Espanol."
Under the poster, two long shelves offer a smattering of bilingual and Spanish-language reference materials, nonfiction books, children's stories and other literature, all meant to entice the city's growing Latino community to use the library.
"If they come in and see everything in English, they might think there's nothing there for them," said Patricia Costello, branch manager. "We want them to feel welcome."
To show Latinos how welcome they are, library officials plan to place similar materials in at least two other branches, said Jacquelyn Nixon Purnell, Pratt's Southeast District supervisor.
"Looking at where [Hispanics] are settling, Fells Point and Dundalk would be the two areas of choice," Purnell said. "If everything gels, we could have something together in six to eight months."
Before starting other Spanish-language collections, Purnell said, she intends to seek advice from Latino organizations and the community, noting that it would take at least $4,000 to start each collection.
While Pratt Central on Cathedral Street offers Spanish-language material, the Patterson Park branch, in the 100 block of N. Linwood Ave., houses Pratt's only substantial Hispanic collection.
The collection, funded by Pratt and aided by private donations, was added when the branch reopened in 1994, Costello said. The library closed in 1990 for renovations.
"In that period of time, the community had changed," Costello said. "There were more Hispanics in the area."
The Latino population in Baltimore has grown to about 45,000 from the 7,600 recorded in the 1990 federal census, said Haydee Rodriguez, executive director of Centro de la Comunidad, a Latino outreach service.
"I see the library as an anchor for a neighborhood in transition," Rodriguez said. "It's helping to stabilize the area."
Though valuable, Rodriguez said, the library is underused because many Latinos don't know about the resources.
To help introduce people to the library, Centro de la Comunidad, the Maryland Humanities Council and the Pratt will offer a free family book discussion starting next month. For six weeks, young people ages 10 to 15 and a parent or adult partner will meet.
Rodriguez said the program isn't for Latinos exclusively.
"The idea is not only to encourage families to read but also to informally encourage inter-ethnic dialogue," she said.
The weekly meetings, which include a light supper, will alternate between Centro de la Comunidad in the 2700 block of Pulaski Highway and the Patterson Park library.
By holding some of the meetings at the library, Rodriguez said, more people will be made aware of its resources.
Costello, who agreed that the library doesn't attract a substantial number of Latinos, said tapes and videos that teach English are the most popular selections.
The library also has a collection of resources, such as resume and job guides, citizenship information and home remedy books.
Children swarm to popular titles such as R. L. Stine's "Goosebumps" series, known in Spanish as "Escalofrios." Parents often prefer the bilingual books, such as "Friends from the Other Side," so they can read along with their children.
"We find that many parents who want to help a child read don't feel comfortable if the book is only in English," Costello said.
Yaniris Vega, 11, who lives in the 500 block of S. Chapel St., said she likes to go to the Patterson Park branch to hone her Spanish language skills. Although she speaks Spanish, she can't read it. So she uses English and Spanish books to help her learn to read Spanish.
Said the 11-year-old: "I like reading both."
Pub Date: 2/01/99